OPINION

Editorial: It wasn’t normal, but some prep sports are better than no prep sports

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    In March of 2020, when the growing COVID-19 pandemic shut almost our entire society down in a matter of a few days, no one really considered the possibility that a year later, in March of 2021, there would still be struggles and there would still be a hotly contested debate over how to best reopen our society.

    Certainly, many health care experts and scientists a year ago feared we were in for a long haul, but when, for example, the 2020 spring sports season was shuttered, student-athletes, coaches, parents and school administrators couldn’t be blamed for assuming, “There’s always next year.”

    There was a “next year.” There was even a later in the same year, as a significantly scaled-back and modified version of a fall sports season was held, followed by a somewhat less radically changed winter sports season – once you grew accustomed to the high school competitors wearing masks.

    So some credit is due, in the form of an editorial pat on the back like this one.

    A while back in this space, an editorial offered lots of people pats on the back for not letting a once-full, pre-pandemic events and activities calendar simply be erased and left blank in 2020, to be refilled with nothing. Yes, countless events and activities had to be cancelled entirely, but many volunteer planners put on their creative hats and came up replacement events and activities that were no doubt different and maybe not quite as fun as what was originally scheduled, but it was something, and that’s better than nothing.

    But we really didn’t touch on high school sports, and, really, youth sports in general, and college sports. It took a lot of effort on a lot of people’s parts to pull off these sports seasons amid a pandemic that presented challenges no one had ever had to deal with before.

    And, perhaps most difficult of all, a major part of that challenge involved making decisions that had zero chance of being universally popular.

    Was it fair to Pirate wrestling to win their first section team championship in 33 years, only to get less than an hour to celebrate it, far from their own gym and their own community, before having to compete, and lose, in the first round of state wrestling later that same afternoon? No, that doesn’t sound particularly fair. But that was the bittersweet reality a couple weeks ago for our Pirate wrestlers, coaches, parents and fans.

    Or look at the state high school hockey tournament that wrapped up on Saturday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. It was different, for sure. For one thing, if a team lost their first game, they were done. The entire consolation bracket, nixed. But what a celebration of hockey in the “State of Hockey,” with the boys’ and girls’ tournaments being held during the same week instead of separately, all resulting in a memorable “Championship Saturday” at the X.

    Give the Minnesota State High School League some credit for this shifting on the fly, too, that sought to keep everyone as safe as possible while also salvaging some sort of season for the kids. The MSHSL is a popular target of derision, some of it well deserved – they inexplicably denied the Crookston Times a state wrestling credential so our sports editor, Jake Shames, could cover it in person – but the League has worked hard to preserve prep competition amid a global catastrophe. Decision-makers have had to pivot, and pivot again, and again.

    Add it all up, and it hasn’t been normal, it hasn’t been as good as normal. But it’s been something, which, again, is better than nothing. And the kids have made and continue to make memories, recollections that will probably make for more interesting stories than usual when they tell them to their kids and grandkids.

    “We won our first section title in more than 30 years, and I wrestled at state with my team, the Pirates, during a global pandemic!” they’ll say. “All in one afternoon!”