Like it or not, Minnesota high school athletes to wear masks in competition, lawsuit challenging it
Youth and high school sports teams in Minnesota were allowed to resume practice Jan. 4 and games and competitions on Jan. 14, but most must wear masks for COVID-19 precautions, even during high exertion.
MOORHEAD — Local Minnesota high school athletic directors say student athletes are excited to be back doing sports and are following new health protocols during the pandemic.
However, they’re not happy about having to wear masks when they practice and compete.
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Dean Haugo, activities director for Moorhead Area Public Schools, said the athletes are used to wearing masks most of the time, but heavy exertion is different.
“I think the kids are trying really, really hard to do their very best…. but it's a significant challenge,” he said.
The requirement, put in place by the state Department of Health, could also create an unusual visual — and possibly an uneven playing field — when teams cross the border to play in North Dakota.
The Moorhead High School boys and girls basketball teams open their seasons Jan. 14 at West Fargo and Shanley, respectively.
The Spuds will be running up and down the court wearing masks, while the Packers and Deacons will not, Haugo said, because rules that govern a team usually follow them when they cross state lines to compete.
“That’s just the way this season is,” he said.
Gov. Tim Walz put Minnesota youth and prep sports on pause in late November due to spiking COVID-19 numbers, but allowed practice to resume Jan. 4 and competition to resume Jan. 14 under the new Department of Health regulations.
Teams in North Dakota were able to start their seasons in mid-December.
The Minnesota regulations are facing a challenge, however.
The group Let Them Play filed a lawsuit in Minnesota this week, seeking to overturn the mask requirement during competition.
Haugo said the Minnesota State High School League has also been advocating for student athletes to compete as they did last fall, without masks, but the Department of Health overruled that request.
Both Haugo and Joe O’Keefe, activities director at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Public Schools, said practices have gone well this week, but they’re keeping an eye out for athletes who might be overexerting themselves, especially those with underlying medical conditions.
O’Keefe said he’s already received emails from doctors about student athletes who have asthma.
Those students won’t get free reign not to wear masks, O’Keefe said, but some leeway will be allowed.
“When you're gasping for air, you have to use common sense,” he said.
Haugo said athletes will be encouraged to step aside or go out in a hallway to lower their mask and catch their breath if necessary.
The Mayo Clinic said it’s safe for most people to wear a mask while exercising.
It said new research has shown that heart and respiratory rates, blood pressure and oxygen level are not significantly affected by wearing a mask during moderate to strenuous aerobic physical activity.
However, it said anyone experiencing fatigue, dizziness, significant shortness of breath or muscular weakness should take a break until the symptoms subside.
Coaches are trying to overcome the challenge by increasing their athletes’ level of conditioning.
However, wearing masks might mean athletes are on the floor or the ice for shorter periods of time than usual, Haugo said.
Athletes in some sports are exempt from wearing masks during practice and competition, including wrestling, swimming, cheerleading and gymnastics, due to masks getting wet, getting tangled or that they might impair sight lines.
The mask is an added challenge for hockey players, who also have a helmet, chinstrap and mouthguard to deal with, Haugo said. Nordic skiers must wear them, too.
At D-G-F, wrestlers seem to be struggling with keeping a mask accessible, O’Keefe said.
They don’t have to wear a mask when grappling with another wrestler, but must have one available to wear at other times during practice and meets.
Both Haugo and O’Keefe said they’re accustomed to and have no problem continuing to comply with safety precautions put in place earlier, from wearing masks on the sidelines and courtside, grouping athletes into pods for practices, adhering to physical distancing when possible and limiting fans in the stands.
If the masking during competition policy went away, they’d be happy.
“The kids want to play. We’ll do what we have to do,” O’Keefe said.
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