FARGO — Fargo Davies head boys basketball coach Bart Manson would prefer the upcoming winter season start on time, but also thinks there are more important things at stake during the ongoing pandemic.
Late last Friday night, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced multiple changes due to the state’s surging COVID-19 outbreak, which included pausing all winter high school sports until Dec. 14. Manson’s team was set to open practice Monday, Nov. 23.
The veteran coach said the community needs to be part of “our team right now” and wear masks, social distance and keep groups small. Manson added that following those guidelines will be beneficial for more than just sports teams.
“This is not so much about us getting to play. It’s about relieving the pressure off our hospitals. That is the No. 1 concern,” Manson said. “We want to play, but we want people to buy in and help those professionals out. Wear a mask for a nurse. Wear a mask for a doctor, a first responder and us as teachers. We’re all trying to do the right thing and we’re all under a lot of pressure, especially in the hospitals.”
This is the second time the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted a season for Manson. Davies was preparing to play in the Class A state basketball semifinals last March when the North Dakota High School Activities Association suspended that tournament, which was eventually canceled.
“I’d much rather have it be at the beginning of the year than at the end of the year like last year,” Manson said.
The Kindred girls basketball team, a Class B perennial power, was scheduled to start practice Monday, Nov. 16, before the state announced its mandates over the weekend. Vikings head coach Sam Brandt said there was a mix of emotions when she heard the news, ranging from anger to disappointment to helplessness.
“It’s a lot of emotion to try to handle and a lot of emotion to try to explain to our athletes when I can’t even understand it,” Brandt said. “No one is asking for games. We just want to practice. We want to practice with the same kids we sit at lunch with everyday.”
Fargo Oak Grove head girls basketball coach Mike Forsberg, who's entering his eighth season at Oak Grove, has been at the helm of a team for 42 years. He wasn’t surprised with the season being delayed with the way the numbers have “spiked” in recent months.
“If you are giving up part of a season to slow this thing down and get it turned and get it going the other way, I think it’s worth it,” Forsberg said. “Would kids like to start now? Absolutely. Would coaches like to start now? Absolutely. But a few weeks out of a (one’s) lifetime, that’s just a little blip on the radar.”
Forsberg said he understands the disappointment with having an athletic season disrupted. Through his four decades of coaching, he’s seen players lose parts of a season and entire seasons for myriad reasons, including injuries and various ailments. He’s also seen resiliency from the athletes he’s coached in those situations.
“They come back stronger,” Forsberg said. “Ultimately, that’s what life is about. Life is about blessings and it’s about hard knocks and you learn to deal with it and that life keeps rolling on. This will be a little lesson for all of us.”
Fargo Shanley head girls basketball coach Steve Jacobson and his Deacons had just earned a spot in the Class A state championship last March when they learned that tournament was being halted. Shanley never had a chance to compete for that state title.
Jacobson said it was tough for the returning players to get the news of another season disruption.
“The girls were excited with open gyms and this sort of hit them hard,” Jacobson said. “What do you tell them? It’s just like the end of last year with the state tournament. You’ve just got to wait, hope and pray. … I think we’ll have a season, I don’t know how big of a season and maybe things will change quicker than we think, but who knows.”
Brandt said what makes it difficult for her basketball team is the players have been and are willing to follow the COVID-19 guidelines needed to compete safely. The majority of her team played on the Kindred volleyball team that made it to the Region 1 title match.
Brandt also said the unknown is an added stress, leaving the program wondering if the season could be delayed again come Dec. 14.
“I think it’s just one of those things you don’t have control over so it makes you more mad,” Brandt said. “It’s hard for them to understand and there’s a lot of fear I think in that, too, because they are not sure what’s going to happen and (playing) means that much to them.
“I think if you tell these kids to put on hazmat suits, they’d be on the floor tomorrow with hazmat suits on just to be able to play.”
There have been multiple online petitions circulating urging that Burgum change his decision and allow high school athletics to not be delayed. One petition had more than 5,000 signatures as of Monday evening.
Manson said his message to the parents of his players is, “you are as much a part of the team this year as you ever have been in the history of my coaching profession.” Manson added his players have done the right thing throughout the pandemic, including wearing face masks for open gyms to prepare for the season.
“Our guys, I’ve been so proud of the way that they’ve handled this all,” Manson said. “No matter whatever kind of basketball players that they’ll ever be in their life, they have shown to me just how resilient and how special of young men that they are.”
Manson said schools have also done a “fantastic” job in trying to keep kids safe during the pandemic. He also thinks coaches held lead in their communities.
“Coaches have a lot of influence within their communities and we need coaches right now to step up and get the people who follow them to believe in it and to wear it and let’s drive down the numbers so we can get back to some sort of normalcy,” Manson said.