Eric Chaloux / Callan Gray
Updated: August 31, 2020 10:36 PM
Created: August 31, 2020 07:24 PM
Football is in the air in the west metro of the Twin Cities as youth tackle football players took to the field in Minnetonka Monday night, but there are some changes due to COVID-19.
Some of the new safety changes included not sharing water bottles among the team, a 6-foot rule on sidelines for players and coaches, benches have been replaced by individual chairs and no extra contact between players, including no "high-fives" to celebrate.
Another change will be a new "COVID-19" coach on the sidelines.
“The COVID coach is responsible for contact tracing —hand sanitizer, disinfecting the balls and things like that and equipment,” said Tony Wixo, Co-Director-Tonka Youth Football.
"We're sanitizing equipment, we're sanitizing hands," said Ryan Gutzmer, a coach and the team's COVID-19 coach. "Even as far as handshakes and high fives, we're really not allowing that."
He took on the extra role of COVID coach to make sure his team of 18 athletes followed the guidelines the Lake Minnetonka Athletic Association developed in order to play this fall. Each team in the league has a COVID coach.
"T's extremely important to make sure that each team is enforcing the rules and we're educating these kids on what it means to live in a time like this with COVID," he said. "They're 12 year old boys, 11 and 12 year old boys, it's hard to keep them apart but I think were doing a really good job of making sure they're social distancing."
Five hundred forty players have signed up for Tonka Youth Football according to the association, from second-grade to eighth-grade, which is at least 5% higher than in 2019.
“We’re excited to get him back out. He’s been cooped up for a while, he needs to get back to playing and he couldn’t be more excited,” said Matt Nyquist, a coach and parent of his sixth-grade son Bennett.
Nyquist says the challenges high school football faces isn't felt in the lower levels of the game.
“We don’t have the busing or the locker rooms, or some of those things that create risk, what we’ve tried to do is create an environment that is safe for the kids,” said Nyquist, who is also head of the Lake Minnetonka Athletic Association.
Instead, players are dropped off by their families and have to get dressed at home or on the sidelines before the game.
"For us the biggest thing is we want to make sure we manage not only the safety of the practices which we talked about earlier but the contact tracing, making sure we have enough space and time between games," said Matt Nyquist, a coach and LMAA president. "So we have an understanding of who were in contact with who and making sure we have time and reaction plans in place to manage that."
As for Nyquist seeing his son play with his friends is a moment this coach won't forget after months of planning by the league as Minnetonka was slated to play Edina to kick-off the season.
“It’s just fun for me as a dad to see them have an opportunity to start to go back, it’s not quite normal, but close to normal,” Nyquist said
Parents are asked to space out in the stands. Anyone player or coach with COVID symptoms or a positive test is required to stay home and report it to the league. If anyone involved in the program who has close contact with someone who tests positive is also told to isolate for 14 days, under MDH guidelines.
"Take it serious," said Nyquist. "You see what we're doing here and what the kids are doing, in order for them to have an opportunity to play, everyone who comes needs to do their part and makes sure we keep everyone safe."
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