High school, youth sports can resume practice on Jan. 4, no games yet

PRIOR LAKE, MN - DEC 29: Chaska Hawks goalie Justin Bach makes a save against Edina Hornets forward Jackson Borst (19) during their prep hockey game at Dakotah! Ice Arena in Prior Lake, MN on Saturday, December, 29, 2018. (Josh Holmberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The earliest the Minnesota winter high school sports season will start is Jan. 4, 2021, according to new guidelines put in place Wednesday by Governor Tim Walz.

The high school and youth winter sports seasons across Minnesota were put on pause back on Nov. 21, as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed across the state before the Thanksgiving holiday. At the Minnesota State High School League’s November meeting, league officials put in place three contingency plans to start the winter high school season.

The first was starting practices as early as Dec. 21, if Walz had planned to ease restrictions when the original order expired Friday night. Walz announced Wednesday youth and high school winter sports can start practices as early as Jan. 4, but there is no timetable for games.

MSHSL officials face several challenges with sports and COVID-19 in the winter, among them that that hockey, boys swimming and diving, basketball, wrestling and gymnastics are all held indoors. High school fall sports held indoors were not allowed to have more than two fans per athlete in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The MSHSL was in the middle of its winter state tournament season in March when many events had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state hockey and wrestling tournaments had just finished, but girls' basketball was stopped before championship games and boys' basketball didn't get past the section playoffs.

League officials said last month they’ll be ready for any start date. They also want to do everything they can to give winter athletes a season while also attempting to start 2021 spring sports on time.