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March Mania

Youth, amateur sports in Minnesota hoping to get green light for summer seasons

ST. PAUL -- Twin Cities baseball coaches are hoping to make up for two lost seasons this summer; they’re just waiting for Gov. Tim Walz to give them, and other Minnesota youth and amateur sports, the green light.

Baseball coaches and players from high schools in the Metro East and Suburban East conferences are planning an abbreviated summer schedule that would replace the American Legion schedule that was canceled May 9 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It also will serve as a high school season of sorts for players who lost their entire season when the governor halted school activities in mid-March and instituted distance learning from March 30 through the rest of the school year.

Woodbury (Minn.) coach Kevin McDermott, one of the coaches spearheading the project, said ideally the league would start practices on June 1, and games on June 15. The appetite is there, he said. Already teams from Cretin-Derham Hall, Hastings, Hill-Murray, Park (Cottage Grove), Sibley, Simley, Stillwater and Tartan have committed to joining the Royals.

“Our kids and parents want to play, bad,” McDermott said. “That’s everything I’m hearing. I know my seniors want one last time to play with the Woodbury logo across their hats and chest, and play together as a team.”

First, they need permission from Walz, who has relaxed stay-at-home orders and restrictions on retail businesses over the past week but has yet to weigh in on whether summer sports leagues such as baseball, fastpitch softball and soccer can play this summer. He is scheduled to speak to reporters at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 20.

“This really isn’t about a league schedule or how we can schedule a tournament tomorrow,” said Matt Tiano, CEO of Twin Cities Soccer Leagues. “It’s about how do we get kids outside and into an activity that’s safer than kids just going to the park?”

Local youth and amateur leagues have been petitioning the governor’s office for permission to at least get on the field together this season. Tarek Tomes, the governor’s IT commissioner, has been tasked with working with leagues on what Tiano called “a pretty robust return-to-play plan” already in the hands of the governor’s team.

“Finding safe ways to get kids back to playing sports in a safe environment is obviously the top priority,” Tiano said.

Tomes was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

What McDermott has been unofficially calling the East Side Baseball League would include a schedule of between 20 and 30 games, depending on when teams are allowed to start, played at between 4-8 p.m. three or four times a week with varsity and junior varsity schedules. Coaches hope to finish it with a championship tournament the last weekend in July.

McDermott and his peers started a similar league last summer when East Metro coaches pulled out of the VFW league, in part because it ran into August. This year they’d like to add players 18 and older to include 2020 seniors who lost their high school and Legion seasons to the pandemic. Next year, presumably, those players would go back to Legion ball.

While the governor’s restrictions have been loosening incrementally over the past several weeks, the Minnesota Department of Health is still recommending residents follow guidelines that have been in place since mid-March such as social distancing of at least six feet and wearing a face mask when outside one’s home.

“We are going to be in this phase of staged reopening for quite a while,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters on Monday. “The way to kind of live with the virus in an ongoing way is … going to really require treatment and vaccination before we feel we can really think the environment is safe. We’re going to really need to keep up these behaviors for a long time to come to be operating in the new normal.”

Victor Adamscek, coaching coordinator for the St. Paul Blackhawks soccer club, said getting a season in isn’t what’s important.

“We are just hoping to get back on the field with kids, and families would it like, too,” he said. “We see 75 percent of the families still interested in participating, even if it’s training only, and we are giving families a chance to opt-out and receive refunds.”

Chad Fredkov, an Afton resident who coaches a 13-year-old team in Lake Elmo’s 15-under baseball league, said coaches sent out a questionnaire to gauge interest and “it was less than 5 percent that said they weren’t ready to come back.”

Fredkov said his son Joe would be part of his team this summer.

“We’re hoping to hear something from the governor by the end of the week,” Fredkov said. “We’re just hoping to do something to allow the kids to get back together and have some sense of normalcy this summer. If sports is able to bring that on, great.

“When my son sees one of his friends, they spend more time just sitting and talking, even if they get together to play catch. It makes you realize these kids need to get back together.”

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