Minnesota high school football and volleyball are back on for the fall.
In two votes Monday, the Minnesota State High School League board of directors reversed its Aug. 4 decision to delay both sports until spring because of COVID-19 concerns.
In a virtual board meeting that had more than 400 people listening in, the league voted 15-3 to restart the football season after voting 14-4 to approve fall volleyball.
A football season of six games was approved, with practice starting Monday, along with a postseason whose format will be determined by Oct. 1. First games would be Oct. 9. The season would end Nov. 28 — the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The volleyball season will start with practices next Monday. An 11-week season was approved with 14 matches starting Oct. 8.
Football and volleyball are the most popular Minnesota high school sports for boys and girls as measured by participation.
The special meeting was called by board Chairman Blaine Novak after a board member workshop last Tuesday surfaced considerable sentiment for revisiting its decision to postpone both sports until March.
Had the meeting not been called, the board’s next regular meeting is not until Oct. 1, which some viewed as too late to consider a possible restart to football with winter approaching.
Last week the high school league surveyed leaders of its 500 member schools asking for their views on whether football and volleyball should be played in the fall of 2020 or spring of 2021, and the most important reason for that response.
A tweet from a high school league official during the Monday meeting said the survey drew responses from 394 schools, with 80% wanting fall football and 76% wanting fall volleyball, the tweet said.
Before the vote on Monday, Minnesota was the only Upper Midwest state to delay football until spring. Michigan recently decided to reverse its decision and resume play this fall.
As momentum surfaced to restart football and volleyball, a Facebook group called Let Them Play MN has sought to bring public pressure via social media. It also held a peaceful protest outside the governor’s residence on Sept. 12. Group organizer Dawn Gillman addressed the board at the start of the meeting on Monday.
Of 1,769 COVID-19 cases associated with sports activities in Minnesota since June 1, about 38% were minors under age 18, according to Minnesota Department of Health statistics. As of last week, there were no hospitalizations or deaths involving children. The cases skew toward males and metro area residents.
From those COVID cases, another 3,965 Minnesotans had been recommended to quarantine for two weeks.
“It comes down to risks and how much risk you’re willing to take on as an organization,” Daniel Huff, a Minnesota Department of Health assistant commissioner, told board members in a workshop last Tuesday.
Health officials have emphasized that while games and practices carry risk, they are equally concerned about the socialization that accompanies sports, which highlights a need to use masks and comply with social distancing.
In August, the board voted 12-6 to postpone football until spring. The volleyball vote in August initially was 9-9 until subsequent voting approved the plan to delay.
Kris Ehresmann, health department director of infectious disease and epidemiology, said last week that she sees “no difference now in risk from earlier in the summer when the MSHSL decided to wait on these sports.’’
What’s new is data from the start of school sports shows “evidence of transmission,’’ she said. “We continue to see a high level of community transmission.’’
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