Shutdown Diary: I Know It’s Just Sports But This One Really Hurt3/20/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
I was at the media table just inside the doors at Williams Arena Friday morning about 10:30 waiting to get my media credentials for the girls state basketball tournament. A Minnesota State High School League official came out and told us the girls tournament was canceled! No games today or tomorrow! Coronavirus wins again!
The Minneota Vikings girls basketball team was to play in the Class A semifinals at noon Friday. I arrived at Williams Arena around 10 a.m. The University of Minnesota worker at the media table told me she couldn't get me inside yet because she hadn't received an updated media list of who was approved to enter. Things have changed since Thursday afternoon, she said. A few other radio and newspaper people were waiting with me. We made small talk for half an hour, patience was wearing thin with some people. They needed to get inside, I needed to get to press row. Why the delay? Then the announcement was made that all games had been canceled. Even the boys state basketball tournament.
The Coronavirus had claimed another event. As I stood with the other media people, we all took out our cell phones immediately to get the word out. As I was texting and posting on social media, my emotions were everywhere! At first I got angry, I was looking forward to broadcasting the game. A high school sportscaster’s dream is to broadcast at state! I have been blessed to do that many times and I still get a huge adrenaline rush! I was also excited about my broadcast partner Morgan Kockelman, who made her radio debut the day before and did a really good job and I knew she was looking forward to calling the game with me again. She said she had so much fun Thursday. I was upset that wasn’t going to happen for her.
I was also angry because I didn’t agree with the decision. Just let the girls play the game with nobody in the stands! I wasn’t in the room when they made that decision and I’m sure it wasn’t an easy one to make. Safety comes first and I understand that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. To say I was upset was an understatement.
Then my emotions took me to sadness. Extreme sadness. I started to tear up standing there looking at my phone. I turned toward the wall so nobody could see me. My heart broke thinking about the Minneota girls not being able to play and possibly win another state championship! I’m close with the Hennen family and I’ve seen Morgan and Abby grow up. Morgan is the only senior on the team. This is how it was going to end for her. I thought about Coach Johnston, he lost his thirteen-year-old niece last week to cancer and his family had to deal with that and now he had to tell his team the bad news. I know how Chad and Dale love those girls. I stopped what I was doing on my phone and called Morgan and Abby’s dad Steve to see how they were doing. They had just found out. I know it’s just sports but this one really hurt.
As I was leaving Williams Arena and walking to my car I kept thinking to myself that this isn’t happening. What is happening? I stopped walking in the parking lot a couple of times to look back at historic Williams Arena, thinking I’m supposed to be in there broadcasting the Vikings state basketball game, not walking to my car going home. The night before I had read John’s Journal and how the Coronavirus was affecting my friend John Millea of the MSHSL. It was very powerful and emotional writing. John has a passion for high school sports/activities like I do and many others also. His Journal Thursday night moved me to tears while reading it. I felt his pain, but now in the parking lot I had that same pain. I wasn’t supposed to be standing in the parking lot, I wanted to be in Williams Arena. Coronavirus stole that from me.
Thursday and Friday at the state girls basketball tournament was one to remember. I felt like I was in a movie. It was surreal. Everything seemed normal until I signed off the air Thursday after Minneota had beat Red Lake in the quarterfinals. I had just taken my headset off, when Todd from Willmar radio was standing behind me and told me that the MSHSL had just canceled all consolation and third-place games. I was stunned. From that moment until I was walking to my car Friday morning was not normal! Not normal at all! I was anticipating celebrating another state championship Saturday with my friends from Minneota! That didn’t happen. The Coronavirus stole that from me and others!
I guess it’s another life lesson. I know some of you are saying that there is more to life than sports, Paul. You are right, but if you love something and are passionate about it and it’s taken away from you, you have a right to be upset about it and I am. I do know that the God I serve is in charge and he has a plan for our lives. He tells us to cast all of our cares on him (1 Peter 5:7) and when we do he puts peace in our heart. Life goes on and we need to celebrate another fun and great season the Minneota Vikings girls had on the court.
Paul Raymo Sports Director KLQP Radio Madison/Dawson
Shutdown Diary: Now Is Our Chance To Prove Who We Are3/19/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students and administrators to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at email@example.com
I saw your tweet and wanted to give my input on concerns for the 2020 track season. I apologize in advance, this might be rather lengthy. I’m Quinn Walker, a 400-meter sprinter from Roseville Area High School.
It’s fair to say we’ve all been stressed, and my team and I really seem to be struggling. For many of us sports are more than a game or a way to gather; training and competing is how we manage stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. With the already increased amount of stress, and no outlet for it, we seem to be snowballing. I myself am rather concerned, because I had my sights set on breaking my school 400 record, winning the Class AA state championship, and going after the state record, as well. I finished second at state last year and sit third all-time at Roseville, so I am incredibly close to my dreams, it would be a crushing blow to lose them now.
I’ve been dreaming of a state championship since I began running at six years old. My passion has only intensified over the years, and I have been training day in and day out for four years to get this opportunity. Additionally, I will be running track at NDSU on scholarship, and if I performed well this spring I would have seen a much-needed increase in that scholarship.
There’s a lot on the line if this season comes to a close, but I also understand it may be necessary. I’ve been telling my fellow athletes that have lost or may lose their season, this is just another chance to prove who we are. The best athletes are resilient, we keep on fighting no matter the obstacle, and we get back up and try again when we lose.
We understand that sometimes you can try your hardest, but not everything is meant to be. The best of us will take this situation and use it as another lesson, another building block to the future, and keep on pushing. Now is our chance to prove we deserve to be here, to prove who we are, and stand strong even when the odds are stacked against us.
Quinn Walker Senior Roseville Area High School.
Shutdown Diary: We Will Focus On Our New Normal3/18/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students and administrators to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive.
I was going to start this by saying I've never seen anything like this in my life, but then I laugh at myself because every person in the world could say that. My family woke up last Monday in Phoenix after watching our son play baseball the previous five days. It is his senior year at Luther College and we had a great time with the other families and made plans for upcoming games and weekends, following the team over the next two months. The corona virus was in the news, but we thought nothing of it, even joked about it.
Back at school Tuesday morning we had a brief staff meeting and touched on what it might look like if we needed to close down for a period of time. It was getting more real, but I still didn't think it would be a disruption. Then came Wednesday. Wow! I kept an eye on the girls basketball state tournament, as I always do, and was looking forward to the section 1A and 1AA boys basketball finals. I am the tournament manager for the 1AA tournament so when the Olmsted County Health Department announced a press conference for 1:30 I was watching intently to see if our games at Mayo Civic Center would be impacted. The short term news was good, we would be allowed to play on Thursday night, but things felt eerie and began to ramp up quickly. Suddenly college teams were canceling games, beginning with the Ivy League Tournament. Twitter blew up over the next several hours, I couldn't keep up with all of the changes. Frankly, I don't think anyone could.
Thursday night's section championship games featured Blooming Prairie vs Hayfield at 6:00 for the 1A title, followed by Caledonia vs Stewartville at 8:00 for the 1AA championship. By all accounts, these would be two great matchups with plenty of D1 athletic talent on display. We expected a great crowd and we got it, the lower bowl was full as were several sections in the upper deck. It had all the makings of a classic section finals night at Mayo Civic Center. But something was different. None of us wanted to say it out loud, but we all had the feeling that this would be it. The feeling that the last night of tournament season at Mayo Civic Center would actually be the last night of basketball in the state. The girls basketball consolation rounds had just been canceled, the adapted hockey tournament was canceled before it began, and my son called me, just as the first game was ready to tip off, to tell me that his season and career were over. Not long after that, I read a tweet on my phone that my good friend, John Millea, was heading home because he was concerned about his own vulnerability at the crowded state tournament. What a surreal 24 hours!
The games did not disappoint, Blooming Prairie and Caledonia won their respective section championship games. Both contests were entertaining, athletic, loud and enthusiastic. The players played hard and the sportsmanship was great on and off the court. When giving out awards, there is always a mixture of excitement and disappointment between the winning and losing teams, but on this night there was another feeling, a sense of the unknown. I have managed many tournaments in many different sports and I have never had a feeling like I did on that Thursday night. It actually makes sense, I guess, because the world has never experienced anything like this before.
The days since have not slowed down in St. Charles, nor have they in any other school in Minnesota or the rest of the country. My wife is an elementary teacher trying to prepare for distance learning, our younger daughter is a junior in high school curious about the future of her academics, track season, prom, and choir. Our son just moved back from college where he will be finishing at least part of his last semester online, knowing that he will get his degree, but a graduation ceremony is highly doubtful. Our oldest daughter is sequestered in her tiny Minneapolis apartment working from home, suddenly feeling very alone in the big city. Today (Tuesday) we had a great outdoor baseball practice with a great group of guys, then I sent them on their way not knowing when we'll be back together, if at all, this season. My role as athletic director is actually pretty easy now because all decisions are out of my hands, but once we get the all clear, no matter when that is, it will be total chaos getting back up and running. I will start my day tomorrow heading back to school to prepare for distance learning for my math classes. I must have been absent the day in teacher school where they taught us how to handle something like this. I am grateful for my amazing colleagues and the incredible leadership from our administrative team.
For all we are going through now, many people have it much worse so we will focus on that in our daily "new normal" lives. We told our team today that they are being the ultimate team players. They are making a sacrifice to protect the people who aren't as strong (I stole that from an online post). We also told our players to never wish away a day, even if some of the days will be not so fun. It's easy to cherish every day when they are fun and easy days, but true leaders will cherish every day, even the tough ones.
Scott McCready St. Charles High School Math Instructor Athletic Director Head Baseball Coach MSHSL Sub-Region Coordinator
Amid The Disappointment: Memories, Smiles And Appreciation3/16/2020
So here we are. Minnesota schools are closing, sports and activities are shutting down and our girls and boys state basketball tournaments crowned no champions in 2020. Everything has fallen victim to the spread of Covid-19.
As I write this, officials in Italy have announced 368 deaths in just a single day with a total death toll (so far) of 1,809 and total reported cases of 24,747.
Events happened in a hurry. In the midst of last week's girls state basketball tournament, it was announced that limited spectators would be allowed for games Friday and Saturday. Basketball consolation-bracket games were canceled, as was the state adapted floor hockey tournament. As the seriousness of the situation became more apparent, the decision was made to cancel the remainder of the girls state tournament, as well as Friday’s boys section tournament games and the boys state tournament.
In conversing with several people at the time, I expressed the sentiment that it was better to be too cautious rather than not cautious enough. And today I saw an anonymous quote that sums it up very well: "In the end, it will be impossible to know if we overreacted or did too much, but it will be QUITE apparent if we underreacted or did too little.”
We all feel terrible about this, especially for the high school seniors who saw their basketball seasons end so abruptly. One coach referred to the decision as “tragic” and a headline said players were “gutted.” Honestly, we all recognize real tragedy. That would be the case if a player or coach or parent or grandparent attended an event, someone unaware that they were carrying the virus spread it, and serious illness or death resulted. That would be tragic. And that’s what everyone is trying to avoid.
As disappointing as this is, it has been heartening to see how so many teams and schools have responded. The Farmington High School girls basketball team, which was in line to meet Hopkins in the Class 4A championship game Saturday, Tweeted a team photo with this message: “Just because we couldn’t play basketball tonight doesn’t mean we would waste an opportunity to spend time with each other!”
In Perham, where the boys basketball team was undefeated heading into their section championship game, the players gathered in someone’s home and had a great time. They ran through their warmup routine, sang the national anthem, put together a two-on-two tournament bracket and played it out in the garage to hollers and hoots.
The Pierz boys basketball team, whose season ended before the section title game (and their possible first trip to state), got together in a home for video games, pizza and photos.
The Becker girls basketball team was set to play DeLaSalle in the Class 3A championship game before the plug was pulled. The Bulldogs’ Courtney Nuest realized what was important when she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Right away, we were super bummed out, but when the team circled together and we talked with each other, we realized how great it was that we got the chance to play together and all of the great memories we made.”
When the postseason banquet for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted wrestling team was called off because of recommendations for no large gatherings, they did the next best thing and made plans to hold the banquet via Facebook Live so everyone could watch together.
Rick Grammond, who operates the popular You Are There Sports website and streaming service in Pierz, is posting a different podcast from previous seasons each night. KDWA Radio in Hastings has begun rebroadcasting high school games from the last couple of seasons.
St. Charles High School activities director and baseball coach Scott McCready Tweeted: “We have always been grateful for the opportunity to play. We have always talked about controlling what we can control (Effort-Energy-Attitude). That will get us through this trying time and whenever it presents itself again, we will appreciate the opportunity to play.”
Kate Leavell of Minneapolis is a former college coach who works as a consultant and speaker. She posted this important message on Twitter: “Athletes, who are young and healthy and would likely get a mild version of virus, have been asked to sacrifice to help slow the spread to save the lives of the compromised population. That’s what teammates do. They make sacrifices to make sure the bigger team thrives.”
And a story in the Rochester Post Bulletin quoted Austin High School boys basketball coach Kris Fadness. The Packers were scheduled to play Albert Lea in a section championship game before everything ended.
“Obviously you want to play the games, but I understand the rationale for not playing,” Kris said. “We just don't know (how serious the virus is). The bottom line is one human life is more important than any basketball game.”
--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Home Is Not Where I Planned To Be Right Now3/12/2020
This has been a very strange day all around. As I begin typing these words, it's 6:10 p.m. and I’m sitting at my kitchen table watching TV coverage of the girls state basketball tournament. That was not at all my plan when this day (Thursday) began.
I arrived at Williams Arena/Maturi Pavilion a little after 8 a.m. today – three hours before the first game -- knowing things were going to heat up in the wake of the Coronavirus news. Indeed, a few hours later we announced that only a limited number of spectators would be allowed at the girls tournament Friday and Saturday. Later in the day, this weekend’s adapted floor hockey state tournament was canceled.
Before I left to drive home around 5 p.m., I was sitting courtside at Maturi Pavilion with my good friend Pat Ruff from the Rochester Post Bulletin. Pat wiped off the tabletop with Clorox disinfecting wipes he had brought, and I used the bottle of hand sanitizer that has been my constant companion lately.
Pat and I like to have a laugh and solve the world’s problems, but our conversation this time was quite serious. It’s simply the not knowing … about this virus, what it may do, how and where it may spread, what impact it will have. The fear.
I belong to a high-risk group for the Coronavirus. I am over 60 with a chronic condition; specifically, I am 61 and have diabetes. I also have a loving family and an infant grandchild.
If you have read my writing and/or followed me on Twitter for any length of time, I trust you know how passionate I am about high school activities. I had tears in my eyes driving home today, and I have tears in my eyes as I watch the games on television. I really do not want to be at home right now.
I have missed a few … very few … big events because I was ill. And it’s so odd to be absent this week because I am fearful of this specific illness.
I so want to be at the games, sharing the stories of these kids, these teams, these communities. Hearing the great bands, enjoying the enthusiastic crowds, seeing all those excited faces. There are schools that have never sent a team to the state basketball tournament prior to this week. There is a coach whose family is grieving the death of a beloved teenage niece. How about the Henning Hornets, following in the steps of last season’s boys basketball team and getting to state for the first time? What grand tales to tell.
One of the last people I spoke with before exiting today was Henning head coach Mike Hepola. He’s also a longtime MSHSL football official and a good guy. Mike and the Hornets were waiting to take the court at Maturi Pavilion and face Fillmore Central, another first-time state entrant, in the Class 1A quarterfinals.
Mike and I exchanged an elbow bump instead of a handshake. I bumped a lot of elbows Wednesday and Thursday, the first two days of the tournament, and also used a lot of soap and hand sanitizer. I’m trying to be smart about this.
As I got in the car, I received a text message from my daughter. Allison is a high school English teacher. One of her colleagues, whose name is Marie, is someone I know. Like me, Marie is diabetic. Allison’s text read: "Marie’s doctor called her and told her to stop leaving the house and that diabetics should be staying home. I encourage you to do the same!!!”
My wife, Beth, has been saying the same thing this week, reminding me that the Centers for Disease Control has warned those over 60 with chronic health conditions to avoid crowds. As I sat courtside with Pat, Beth called and encouraged me to come home right then. She closed her argument by saying, “I can’t lose you.”
This note is posted on the CDC website: “If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.”
And this: “Avoid crowds as much as possible.”
Before beginning to write these words, I posted this message on Twitter: “A personal note... I have arrived home from the girls state basketball tournament. I won't be there tonight, Friday or Saturday. I'm not ill but I am fearful since I am in a high-risk group for this virus (over 60 with a chronic condition...diabetes). More thoughts to come...”
That message was followed by so many wonderful, sweet, heartfelt comments from people. Just now I noticed that one of the Twitter accounts that “liked” my message belongs to my oldest son in California. He is our beloved grandson’s father.
Now my screen is extra blurry because I’m typing through more tears.
As I packed my bag and stood up to leave the tournament, the last thing I said to my friend Pat was this: “Say a prayer for all of us.”
Be well, my friends.
--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.