When Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz shut down much of the state — and all amateur athletics — that meant Faribault Ice Arena was going to be left empty until at least Dec. 19, when Walz’s executive order is set to expire.
That left the trio of Faribault Public Schools, the Faribault Hockey Association and the City of Faribault — which jointly operate Faribault Ice Arena — with a dilemma. Do they uninstall the ice?
Keeping the ice means continuing to pay to keep the arena’s climate in the precise spot to maintain the ice’s structural integrity. Removing the ice means hefty costs to first uninstall it and then reinstall it when amateur athletics receive the green light to resume activities.
Right now, there’s still an ice surface at Faribault Ice Arena, signaling a bet that the shut down will end sooner rather than later.
“With just the quick shutdown, the board talked about it and we’re going to wait and see,” FHA President Brent Peroutka said.
While the ice dilemma is a problem unique to hockey rinks, youth sports organizations around the state are dealing with a myriad of decisions with attached financial ramifications.
A little bit farther down I-35, the Owatonna Basketball Association was set for a board meeting Wednesday night to go over a number of topics, including how to structure its payment system this winter.
“At the beginning of the year we told parents that based on how the season goes we’ll figure out a formula to adjust fees differently,” OBA President Matthew Ginskey said. “We’re still abiding by that in general principle. We don’t have an official policy out, but we should toward the end of the year.”
The Owatonna Basketball Association was able to start its typical season in early November, but from the start it was clear this was going to be an abnormal year.
Typically, the organization starts with player evaluations, which are held in various basketball gyms through the Owatonna Public Schools campuses. This year, however, no outside organizations were permitted to use school facilities until the second week of November, so those player evaluations were all held at a local church.
By the time amateur athletics were shut down, Ginskey estimates teams had about only a week or two of normal practice.
Since then, teams have done the best they can to go virtual.
“We haven’t had a formal program or anything like that, but we have put out some materials to hopefully keep the kids engaged, working on their basketball skills and hopefully staying in shape while things are shut down,” Ginskey said. “When the weather gets cooler, kids just don’t have anywhere to do this type of thing. They either have to do it in their house or in their driveway or pull the cars out of the garage and get creative.
“It’s much easier to do that when you have a scheduled practice and get to be around your buddies and around your coach,” he added.
The Faribault Hockey Association has also taken to virtual instruction throughout the past few weeks, with coaches hosting dryland workouts and team Jeopardy tournaments on Zoom.
“Most coaches have done a really good job in terms of reaching out, communicating, doing some fun things on the team side but also several teams are doing puck shooting challenges in the time off, or different stick-handling drills or techniques they can do as a team,” Peroutka said. “We’re doing the best we can to keep people engaged.”
Right now, both Peroutka and Ginskey are counting on a return to a semblance of normalcy at some point this winter.
A little bit farther north, the Northfield Soccer Association never received that full reprieve this summer.
With a traditional season wiped out, the NSA pivoted to provide players on its traveling and academy teams with virtual skill sessions and free weekly chats on Zoom with its Program Director Gabe Korteum.
Then, there were weekly in-person sessions for $45 at Spring Creek Park for players to work individually on skill-based drills, and as restrictions loosened, those sessions expanded to include limited interaction in between players and eventually unofficial scrimmages with teams from nearby communities.
Even still, the NSA operated at a considerable loss after it issued refunds to all families of players with the traveling program.
“We refunded everybody to the tune of about $74,000 we gave back to all of our traveling families,” NSA President Brent Kivell said. “We made it through the summer with a nice financial cushion that we kept for quite a long time, but didn’t really know how much we needed it. That got us through to the fall, and then we started a fundraising program in August.”
That fundraising effort was capped off on Give To The Max Day and was accompanied by a video of Northfield High School senior Peder Lindell emphasizing the large role the organization played in his life and those of his friends.
Combined with a pair of grants from the city of Northfield and Northfield Shares, the Northfield Soccer Association made it through the fall and is in good financial standing as it starts to accept registrations for the spring season.
“We have a budget plan that’s belt-tight, but will get us through,” Kivell said. “If we can meet the goals we have, we’ll make it through, and along those lines we’re not planning on spending any of the money we’re bringing in, in case worst case scenario that season doesn’t happen and we have to refund.”
While the Owatonna Basketball Association is starting to move toward some type of refund process, the Faribault Hockey Association is waiting for a little bit more clarity on how long the shut down will last.
“We’ve talked about it, but hopefully it doesn’t go down that path,” Peroutka said. “That’s the plan.”
Financially, Ginskey said the Owatonna Basketball Association is in good shape thanks to a financial bedrock built over the past few years. Peroutka, however, said a large portion of the Faribault Hockey Association’s fundraising efforts through pull tabs at local business and restaurants have been dormant.
In the meantime, coaches will continue virtual offerings and potentially expand those where possible.
And while a lot of individual hockey skills are replicable in the home, Peroutka said there’s no replacement for in-person practice.
“We’re trying to balance everything out,” Peroutka said. “I think health and safety, I said in an association-wide email, that’s first and foremost and you want families to be safe, but there’s also a big mental health component of our team. It’s not all about winning and losing, it’s about getting people together, building that team chemistry, bonds and relationships with other teammates. That’s a big part of what some of these kids are missing.”