Every athlete dreams of playing in the postseason. They dream of hearing the roaring crowd cheer as the final buzzer sounds; to have family and friends rush the sidelines and share in the pinnacle moment. They dream of moments and memories. From the very first day of freshman practice to the final buzzer of their final senior game, the dream remains.
Now some players, parents and fans are crying foul as the North Dakota High School Athletic Association’s mid-summer decisions on COVID-19 protocols have turned the dream into a nightmare, particularly on the Western Edge.
“I don’t understand why [the NDHSAA] made the choices that they’re making,” Kristin Sevier, a parent of a winter sports athlete at Dickinson High School, said. “None of it is clear, nobody is speaking out.”
Sevier is not alone in her criticism, as more than 7,500 parents, teachers, coaches and fans have rallied together to voice their concerns with decisions made by the North Dakota Athletic Association to uphold its ‘COVID prevention restrictions’ during the 2020-21 playoff season.
With state tournaments for winter sports already in full swing, the NDHSAA ruling on the matter appears final with executive director Matt Fetsch stating in an interview with the Jamestown Sun that the assumption is that this is a “one-year thing,” with the decision being made to protect players from COVID.
Despite the intentions of the restrictions, parents are noting inconsistencies in the handling of the tournaments, attendance and masks across the state — especially the differences between Class A and Class B.
“Why does Class B get to have a normal tournament and Class A doesn’t?” Sevier asked. “Nobody feels like we can do anything... Our kids have already been through enough, they’ve jumped through all the hoops that everybody has put in front of them to play, or even have the opportunity to see any kind of sport at all this year. I feel like they deserve it … those seniors, my heart breaks for those seniors.”
Prior to Gov. Doug Burgum’s decision to delay the start of winter athletic competitions in December, the NDHSAA drafted and approved restrictions for tournaments. At the time the decision was made in November, North Dakota was at the height of the outbreak and averaged 1,381 cases per day. On Feb. 22, 2021, the state has a rolling seven day average of 49 cases per day.
The North Dakota Department of Health’s metrics show every county in the state listed as “Green” or low risk for the spread of COVID-19. Despite the significant improvement from November to today, the NDHSAA confirmed they would proceed as outlined in their decision in November.
Guy Fridley, an NDHSAA board member and Athletic Director at Dickinson High School, addressed what parents are calling “inconsistencies.”
“We have been consistent with our restrictions. Two things that have been in play all year, Dickinson Public Schools require masks at all of their facilities, including any event held by DPS, on and off our campuses. Secondly, we have followed the recommendations set forth by the governor’s office, Southwestern District Health Unit and the protocols our school board put in place,” Fridley said. “Masks and limiting attendance have helped keep students out of quarantine and our programs open.”
Discussing the decision to proceed with the protocols, Fridley highlighted the options discussed by the board that led to the decision to restrict attendance and require masks.
“The combined tournament and board tournament committees explored several options for all tournaments, including splitting the basketball tournament into two tournaments in separate cities, playing consolation games at alternate venues, etc. The combined tournament committee includes individuals who plan and execute some of the largest events in our state, so their guidance is invaluable when discussing viable possibilities for combined tournaments,” he said. “The Class A tournament committee members also discussed the eventual alteration option with their respective conference athletic administrators. They received support prior to the NDHSAA Board of Directors approving the changes.”
Concerning feedback from parents, coaches, fans and players, Fridley said they have been mostly positive.
“We have received more positive feedback than negative,” he said. “Most people are supportive of the things we are doing to keep our kids safe so they can have a successful season. We understand that any decision made will not come with 100% agreeance from our patrons.”
Speaking directly to those concerned with the restrictions, Fridley said they understood the frustrations but were more concerned with keeping players, coaches and staff safe.
“The NDHSAA board of directors are great people who genuinely care about our students, and the NDHSAA office works tirelessly to do what is best for all student-athletes in North Dakota.” he said. “As a parent, I get it. I want things to return to normal as much as anyone else. I understand the frustrations some people may have, and I appreciate everyone’s understanding of the difficult decisions the NDHSAA Board of Directors has faced over the past 11 months.”
Fridley added, “This generation has never lived through a pandemic. Every decision made resulted from tons of discussion, with the foundation always being to keep everyone safe.”
Sevier and other parents viewed the protocols as doing more harm than good.
“They’re not advocating for the kids. They’re all trying to say ‘it’s for the kids,’ but it can’t be for the kids if they’re not giving the kids what they deserve,” Sevier said. “They’ve pulled back and they’re not giving them that true ‘state experience.’ I know sports is not everything, but it’s important to a lot of kids...Those seniors have worked hard, it’s their last year in high school to have those opportunities and if they’re getting it taken away then it’s not fair.”
Sevier added, “They have people in those positions, at the North Dakota High School Association who will no longer take calls about the subject and ask us to speak with our high school athletic director, which would be Guy Fridley here in Dickinson, and they’re not doing anything with it. You would hope they would make the best decisions and choices, and it just seems like they’re not.”