Masks now mandated to ensure continuation of SPA winter sports

Seniors+Michael+Bagnoli%2C+Evan+Thissen%2C+Frank+Tsiouvaras%2C+and+Bobby+Verhey+participate+in+a+drill+while+wearing+masks.

Will Schavee

Seniors Michael Bagnoli, Evan Thissen, Frank Tsiouvaras, and Bobby Verhey participate in a drill while wearing masks.

As the Minnesota State High School League continues to roll out new guidelines and regulations regarding the 2020-21 winter season for high school sports, individual programs and schools are also placing their own restrictions on student-athletes as it pertains to mitigating the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. The efforts of the administration at Saint Paul Academy and Summit School to protect student-athletes have gone beyond the guidelines given by MSHSL.

In an email from Upper School Athletic Director Ken McNish, on Wednesday, November 11, the decision to require masks during all SPA winter sports practices was announced. “We take the safety of the student-athletes, coaches, staff, and faculty very seriously. Therefore, starting tomorrow, we are requiring players to wear masks during practice.” McNish said. The decision was made with careful consideration of students’ ability to play with a mask on but, more importantly, with consideration to the health of the players and the surrounding community. As many winter sports are indoors, sports during the fall season, while required to wear masks, did not give the administration much insight into the potential of an outbreak as sports start to move indoors and air circulation is inhibited, “We do not have the luxury of being outdoors with ample space like we did with fall sports,” McNish continued.

We take the safety of the student-athletes, coaches, staff, and faculty very seriously. Therefore, starting tomorrow, we are requiring players to wear masks during practice.”

— Athletic Director Ken McNish

Although the administration is able to determine mask use policies for SPA students, there is no way for SPA to enforce both teams wearing masks during a competition. “During competition, the option to wear a mask is there but it will not be mandated, per MSHSL guidelines,” McNish added. The faculty at SPA are doing everything in their power to protect athletes and preserve the season as much as possible.

The school’s guidelines have been put in place, but the task of keeping athletes safe falls on the athletes themselves. As the winter season ramps up and captains practices and tryouts begin, the enforcing of rules will have to be done by coaches, captains, and teammates more than anyone. Many captains are finding ways to help their team like on boys hockey, “I will make sure to set a good example to remind my teammates of the protocol, not only to keep everyone safe but to do everything in our power so that we can actually have a season at all,” Senior captain Michael Bagnoli said. Leading by example is just one way that athletes can help keep their team safe, as they have a lot of impact on the actions of their teammates.

Captains have been giving their input on protocols and have been tasked with ensuring the proper procedures are followed. For the girls basketball team, mitigation efforts are incredibly prevalent with health screenings and masks but also “to limit the number of students allowed at each practice so we can ensure everyone has enough space to distance in the gym. We mainly do socially distant drills like shooting, ball handling, and conditioning, but in the event of a scrimmage, all players wear gloves so we avoid making direct contact with the same ball and it actually improves dribbling skills which is a plus,” said senior captain Rashmi Raveendran. Though regulations like these will increase a team’s ability to continue practicing, there is still no way to ensure the season’s continuation.

As the winter season quickly approaches, teams will undoubtedly continue to instate rules and refine the regulations already established to make sure that the athletes are able to practice in a safe manner. Raveendran added, “Hopefully, with all these rules in place, it can ensure that everyone follows the rules to keep the team safe.” The priority should be safety, yet athletes are looking to the season ahead with optimism that their teammates will do what is best for themselves, the team, and the community as a whole.