After the Minnesota State High School League ruled last month to move football and volleyball to a truncated season beginning next March, it appeared that prep gridders were out of luck if they wanted to enjoy any actual competition this fall.

However, a couple of new 7-man touch football leagues are expected to start playing games this month outside the purview of the MSHSL. The leagues would give high school footballers a chance to work on their plays and pass routes, while maintaining safety precautions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One option is the My7on7 Passing League that is owned and run by Ty Thomas, the father of a former Minnehaha Academy player. The two-hand touch league is actually in its sixth year, but a special division is available this fall for high school teams only.

touch football
Hope Academy junior Delone Lohnes is downed by Saint Paul Academy sophomore Brody Rindelaub during a My7on7 touch football practice. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“It gives our kids a chance to scratch that itch,” Thurow said. “I’m all for it.”

The league was started by Thomas to heighten awareness of less violent alternatives to traditional football for young players. Football is not a game that promotes social distancing, but Thomas believes his league’s heavy emphasis on passing and minimal physical contact will allow players to compete safely.

The My7on7 serves about 5,000 youngsters in Minnesota, and also has a presence in North Dakota and Florida. “We operate year-round,” Thomas said. “It was easy for us to turn the switch (to COVID).”

Through mid-August, Thomas said the My7on7 league had already signed up 40 high school teams. There are divisions for freshmen and varsity, with a maximum of 14 players per team. Games will be played on Saturdays beginning September 12 in the former Minnesota Vikings training facility at Winter Park in Eden Prairie. Teams play five double-headers, with games running 24 minutes. A championship playoff is also planned.

touch football
Junior Sanjay Redd grabs a pass in front of fellow Redhawk, senior Tony Avila-Tovalin, during a touch football practice. Regular prep football has been moved to spring. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Minnehaha Academy is one of the teams signed up for the league. Redhawk athletic director Josh Thurow said he knows how much his school’s athletes missed playing football this fall. He said it will be a good alternative for them, even if it does mean no tackling.

“It gives our kids a chance to scratch that itch,” Thurow said. “I’m all for it.”

Minnehaha players will be joined by teammates from Saint Paul Academy and Blake, which play cooperatively as the SMB Wolfpack during the regular high school season.

Some of the other teams in the My7on7 league are Anoka, Simley, Rochester Mayo, Waconia, Bloomington Kennedy, Forest Lake, Mahtomedi, Apple Valley/Eastview, Lakeville South, Blaine, Hopkins and Saint Cloud.

Thomas said that safety protocols will be diligently applied during play. Temperature checks will be done on all personnel who enter the field. Parents will need to certify that no family members have the coronavirus and will have to sign a waiver for their child to play. Parents will not be permitted in the facility area. Teams are expected to be coached by volunteers or the players can coach themselves.

Games will be refereed by certified officials, who will wear masks and be equipped with electronic whistles. The entry fee is $110 per player. Cleats, mouthguards and soft-shell helmets are required.

A Saint Paul 7 On 7 Football League also is being started this fall by Cretin-Derham Hall athletic director Phil Archer. The league is scheduled to begin play on September 12 on fields throughout the city. Archer said the schedule and number of teams was still being worked out. The league will draw players from Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools, as well as from private schools in the metro area.

Archer said the teams are expected to be a mix of players and not ones representing a specific prep program. “It’s not a school-led thing,” he said.

The entry fee is $115 per person and teams may have as many as 22 players.

Archer said the touch football leagues offer something previously not available to prep players. He noted that volleyballers have other programs, like Junior Olympic competition. “But football players didn’t have another option,” he said.

—Bill Wagner

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