High school sports teams hold their first in-person practice on Monday, January 4. It will be a ten-day rush to the start of the season, as early as January 14, as established by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL). Squads have to learn the health protocol set in place due to the pandemic, hold tryouts to set varsity rosters, and get some chemistry with their new teammates. And wear a mask.

Owatonna High School Activities Director Marc Achterkirch spoke on Saturday's AM 1390 KRFO "High School Coaches Show," expressing the excitement felt by student-athletes and coaches for the arrival of the winter sports season.

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"It's been really busy. But we're so excited. And actually, kind of grateful. As Big Nine ADs we kind of anticipated this was going to happen [a January 14 start date]. We had worked out the schedules previous with the idea that we would start practice on the 4th...


"Kids have to stay in pods of 25 or less, and that includes coaches [when practice starts]. One of the differences....we have kids trying out...it makes it a little tougher. You'll still keep pods of 25. You might have a few kids that jump back and forth...


"[regarding masks] I think right now the biggest thing is, this is a mandate that's coming down from the department of health and the governor and we have to abide by it. So our coaches will make sure that our kids are wearing masks while they're practicing, while they're competing...It's not a real popular decision right now. There are concerns out there with kids with asthma...kids exerting a lot of energy, having masks on can be hard. It's just an obstacle or another requirement of us to compete...We'll do what we have to do. Things change too. If things improve and get better and we see that kids can compete without masks, that would be great. But for the time being, we'll have to go with it."

-OHS Activities Director Marc Achterkirch

Owatonna boys and girls hockey, boys and girls basketball, and boys swimming are all on the schedule for Thursday, January 14. The wrestlers are set to open their season one night later. The Huskies dance team has an event on Saturday, January 16.

Blooming Prairie Activities Director also was part of the "Coaches Show" broadcast Saturday, "Coaches have been working hard prior to that time to get organized and keep the student-athletes engaged virtually. We're ready to go and excited to get the kids back in our building and practicing."

Many aspects of health protocol are the same as fall, "Obviously the change are the masks being worn the entire time is going to be the biggest adjustment...I feel like...our coaches have been so good about following all of the guidelines and being very diligent about that. So, I don't feel like any of the extra protocols and going to be any extra stress to any to any of us."

"I know the mask is going to be an adjustment. But, we look at it in the big picture. The athletes get to compete and that's what they want to do. If we have to do those other things we'll make it work."

The Westfield Razorbacks, the wrestling coop between Blooming Prairie and Hayfield, opens the season on Thursday, January 14. The basketball teams begin their varsity season Friday, January 15.

"There are several different requirements that have been put into place...There are pod size limits of 25. I could go into all sorts of rules. The big one...all basketball players have to wear masks at all times, while they're practicing, while they're playing...

It creates some challenges. But at the same time, we feel that we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to get back out there playing and competing and having fun."

-NRHEG Activities Director Dan Stork

The MSHSL has indicated that wrestlers will not have to wear masks while in the act of competition. Activities director are still waiting for guidance from the MSHSL regarding fans at events. During the fall season, football fields could have a total of 250 fans in the stands. Volleyball matches were allowed up to two fans per athlete. Stork said he hopes the league gives a little more notice than during fall. The announcement to allow fans at volleyball occurred only hours before the start of the season.

For NRHEG and Medford, wrestling begins January 14 and basketball the next night. Triton athletes open the wrestling, girls basketball, and boys hockey (Dodge County Wildcats) seasons on January 14. Boys basketball and girls hockey start a day later.

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