Gov. Walz announces winter sports start-up


Evan Dushek

Weight room, awaiting the return of winter sports

Evan Dushek, Writer

On Wednesday, Dec.16,  Gov. Tim Walz gave a press conference regarding the “pause” preventing high school sports from beginning at the initial start date. Although the state is coming off a surge of COVID-19 cases and totals are rising to about 4,500 deaths, Walz concluded that youth and adult sports practices may begin on Jan.4. 

This Jan.4 start date was one of many dates proposed by the Minnesota State High School League, among them were Dec.21 and Jan.18. Gov. Walz’s decision on youth and adult sports beginning on the 4th was based on one major factor, that most vaccinations are set to begin distribution the week of Dec.21 as Walz has developed a plan for vaccine distribution starting with healthcare professionals and the most clinically at risk that started Tuesday, Dec.16. 

Additionally, with practices starting on Jan.4 games are scheduled to begin for most sports as early as Jan.14, but this date is still pending approval from Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health. If that Jan.14 date is not approved, games are likely to start after Jan.18.  That Jan.14 date applies for girls and boys hockey, boys and girls basketball and wrestling’s first competition is scheduled for Jan.15.  The activities department has been rescheduling competitions. Updates can be found at the link below for the Owatonna winter sports schedule.

The winter sports season will be far from normal as coaches and schools are given strict safety protocols in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. OHS Basketball Head Coach Josh Williams and OHS Athletic Director Marc Achterkirch, elaborated on what those protocols may look like. Protocols will consist of masks worn by coaches at all times but optional by kids when actively participating,  all equipment and personnel will need to be sanitized often throughout practice, practice social distancing as much as possible to limit numbers per team/pod. Mr. Acterkirch stated, “Pod sizes are limited to 25, and for some sports like wrestling they are as low as 10 while social distancing in partners.” In a game setting Coach Williams said, “Chairs and bench will need to be distanced. There will be a limited amount of tickets.  So crowds and fans will be significantly less than most years. And masks on for those not involved in the game.” As with fall sports, there will be two passes given out per participant and they can be used at all conference competitions. Limited entrance and exit points for games and practice. No locker rooms and no shared equipment are also among the protocols set in place.

During the “pause” period teams and athletes have done what they can to stay prepared as their season was nothing but question marks. One example would be our OHS girls gymnastics team does conditioning drills over zoom in order to stay physically prepared when the time arises. Other athletes like OHS junior, boys basketball player Tyrel Creger have stayed prepared on their own. Creger said, “I have been working out and rehabbing some injuries and as far as mentally being prepared I have been watching more film and learning more about basketball.” Athletes who participate in all winter sports are in a similar situation and are finding ways to stay prepared. 

After an extended period of time with close to no answers on what will happen in regards to the winter sports season. There is much excitement and anticipation among athletes and coaches. Mr. Achterkirch said, “I am very excited to get things going, and as long as we follow protocol and everyone buys into being safe and making good choices, it should be a successful season”. Excitement is a common theme for winter sports coaches. Coach Williams said, “It’s a unique year.Truly glad there is hope on the horizon for a season and the chance to compete for our kids.” OHS gymnastics captain Lindsey Bangs also added, “I think this season will be a little odd but hopefully we can still make the best out of it. I think I am just excited to have a senior season.”

This season will no doubt be a new experience for all but with optimism and determination it won’t be forgotten. Players and Coaches will have to work together to stay safe and be smart in order to keep COVID numbers at zero. Ultimately, Gov. Walz, the Minnesota State High School League, Athletic directors and coaches throughout the state are prepared to make this winter sports season happen in a safe and effective manner beginning Jan.4.  This is a developing story and may change depending on the Minnesota and Steele County COVID-19 numbers.