By Eric Erickson
While the summer Olympics proceed in Tokyo, international soccer tournaments are held and Minnesota’s professional sports teams host games with fans back in the stands, high school athletes across the state are enjoying a “normal” summer of voluntary training sessions.
The Minnesota State High School League lifted its mask requirements and COVID-19 protocols in June, in advance of the annual summer workout window which allows coaches to practice with players in their programs.
At Como Park High School, the result has been an enjoyable experience for student athletes in sports that may have taken place last winter, just concluded this spring or begin their official “fall” season on Aug. 16.
For motivated Cougar runners who concluded their track and field season on June 10, it was an easy transition this summer to distance runs in the mornings led by cross-country captains. Coach Tim Kersey encourages the student leadership and feels comfortable staying out of the way until mid-July.
Kersey provides weekly mileage goals tailored to each runner, but stresses the main objective is “to be outdoors, improve your running and have fun with friends. They (the runners) have a great attitude and can get a lot done in a supportive environment.”
Meanwhile, football players have been working out in the weight room three afternoons a week during the summer. That wasn’t possible in 2020 because of COVID, nor in 2019 because of building construction. The combination of weight room access being restored, plus program momentum following last fall’s conference championship has produced positive energy.
The football Cougars also hold one practice a week on the turf field. Coach Kirby Scull says it’s tough to get a full team on both sides of the ball for practice, given other responsibilities his players have including jobs, family support and summer school for some. But any time together at Como is an opportunity to improve.
For Como High boys and girls soccer players, Wednesday nights are prime time on the Como turf—two hours of volunteering to help lead over 80 elementary-age youth in the Soccer Stars program—a collaboration administered through St. Paul Parks and Recreation, with coaching provided by Como’s high school players—a spirited and joyful experience.
As for training sessions, both the boys and girls teams have numerous opportunities each week to develop technical and tactical skills. Boys coaches Jonah Fields and Sunday Htoo are also using runs around Como Lake for fitness, and the Sepak Takraw kick volleyball courts at Marydale Park for fun cross training and sharpening their soccer touch.
“Our goals for summer are simple,” Fields said. “Give our best effort to improve each day on the little things and contribute to a positive, welcoming community to all student athletes.”
In that same vein of serving the community, Como tennis players and recent alumni are leading St. Paul Urban Tennis sites this summer. The 2021 Como High boys tennis captain Aidan Reynolds is a SPUT coach, as is Antero Sivula from the class of 2019.
Several current Cougar boys and girls tennis players are participating in the Junior Tennis Team League. Rising senior Eva Larson and rising sophomore Ashley Hartwich are part of SPUTniks, the highest level of play in the St. Paul division.
Como boys Hsar Lay Moo and Htoo Kyi Lay both participated in the Hmong J4 Tennis Tournament for the junior division.
“They both represented Como Park well with fight and sportsmanship,” said Cougar tennis coach Kia Yang.
As for baseball, players from Como’s school team have transitioned to summer ball and into the new uniforms of the Rice St. VFW team, sponsored by the Rice Street Athletic Club.
Coach Matt Smith says the VFW league (for 15- and 16-year-olds) is an excellent way for the core of Como’s developing players to gain more game experience and get more practice. The competition extends beyond the city, with challenging games against suburban opponents.
“The boys have a great attitude and have been willing to work hard, especially when the scale hasn’t been in our favor,” Smith said.
Inside Como, bouncing basketballs are often heard in the gym. Girls basketball workouts are held three mornings a week, but cross training has included agility work on the track and muscle recovery in the swimming pool.
The Cougars have played games in a summer league against other top high school teams and have looked strong in two close losses to Becker, a perennial state power in Class 3A. Beyond their school basketball, Ronnie Porter, Kaylynn Asberry, Shakyla Walker and Cloey Dmytruk have been busy playing tournaments for high-level, traveling AAU teams.
As our community and society return to more regular routines, Como student athletes are soaking up the opportunity to be active this summer.
Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Park High School and a longtime coach of school and youth sports in St. Paul.