Youth sports in Minnesota can begin games and scrimmages beginning Jan. 14, the Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday, Dec. 28.
All youth sports, including high school sports, in the state have been on hiatus since Nov. 21 due to the coronavirus pandemic and an executive order by Gov. Tim Walz. The order was initially intended to be in effect for four weeks and set to conclude on Dec. 18, but the governor extended the order for two additional weeks days before it was set to expire.
Youth athletics may begin conducting practices on Monday, Jan. 4. That gives high school teams the 10 days of practice before competition required for most sports by the Minnesota State High School League.
Contact between individuals should be limited as much as possible. Practices should be conducted in pods of no more than 25 people and smaller if possible. Sidelines during games should be situated such that participants can sit 6 feet apart from each other while not in the game.
“Teams and organizations are responsible for ensuring that members of different pods do not practice together, interact, or otherwise come into close contact while organized sports are occurring,” the MDOH guidelines say. “Pods must either practice in physically separate rooms, facilities, or areas, or steps must be taken to ensure that pods are kept separated by a distance of no less than 12 feet at all times. Teams must also avoid reassigning athletes to different pods to the maximum extent possible.”
Participants and all other personnel are required to wear masks at all times during practice and competition, except in wrestling, swimming and diving, and gymnastics, where the face covering could become a choking or visual hazard. They must cover the mouth and nose completely and must not be removed during strenuous physical activity.
Allowable face coverings include a cloth mask, neck gaiter, scarf, bandana, or religious face covering. They should use two layers of fabric and not include a hole, valve or vent for easy exhaling.
The Minnesota Department of Health warned that while it is allowing athletic competition to begin, it does not mean that participation is without risk.
“Any time you gather with other people, you are putting yourself and others at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” the MDOH says in its guidelines. “COVID-19 can lead to serious medical conditions and even death for people of all ages. We cannot predict who will become severely ill, although we know that older people and people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk. We do not yet know what the long-term effects of COVID-19 are; even people with mild cases may experience long-term complications.”
It is unclear at this time whether any spectators will be allowed to attend events. Guidance and clarity on that front is expected to come between now and the beginning of the season.
The announcement of the first allowable day of competition for youth sports puts into effect a winter and spring athletics calendar approved by the MSHSL at its most recent board meeting.
The approved calendar was slated to feature a 10-week season for dance, an 11-week season for Nordic and alpine skiing, swimming and diving, a 12-week season for wrestling and gymnastics and a 13-week season for basketball and hockey.
Section and state tournament dates and locations have not been finalized, but the MSHSL has said it intends to conduct postseason competitions. The planned calendar is set to see the final winter state tournaments conclude either the week of March 29 or the week of April 5.
Most spring sports are scheduled to begin practices the week of March 29 and competition the week of April 12 with state tournaments concluding the week of June 14.