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Lighting up the State: Schools turn on the lights to show students they are missed

It’s been a dark spring at every athletic complex throughout the nation, but there was a brief moment of light on Monday night. More than 236 schools across the state of Minnesota flipped on the lights at their baseball, football and softball complexes to honor the Class of 2020 and all other students who are missing out on their daily routines.

In Austin, Wescott Athletic Complex and Dick Seltz Field stayed lit for 20 minutes and 20 seconds and Blooming Prairie and Hayfield followed suit as the entire Gopher Conference lit up its stadiums. Lyle-Pacelli, Southland, Grand Meadow and LeRoy-Ostrander have also participated in “Be the Light.” The night of lighting up the stadiums was a nice break from a string of spring cancellations for Austin Activities Director Lisa Quednow.

“It was fun to see all of the schools in the state do it,” Quednow said. “It’s just good for kids to know that we miss them too. They do miss their coaches and I have coaches who have such good relationships with the kids.”

It is still uncertain if students will return to school this year and the future of spring sports is also up in the air.

“We have plans if we are allowed to participate this spring, but it’s been tough,” Qwednow said. “It’s fun to see coaches and kids interact, but it’s tough not to be able to see that. It’s not just athletics, it’s all of the other activities like Big Nine music and robotics.”

Blooming Prairie athletic director Ali Mach said Monday was one of the busiest nights BP has had since COVID-19 pandemic began. The fire department set up a large American flag by the lit up football field, cars drove by and honked their horns, and onlookers wandered by to gaze at the lights. BP and Hayfield each lit up their stadiums last week as well, but they were a little more organized on Monday.

Mach said it was tough to see sports come to a halt when BP was in the middle of one of its best sports years in school history.

“The hard part is we were having a great year, but the big picture is as educators and coaches, we are social people and we like to be around the kids,” Mach said. “It’s hard for us not to be around them every day. We’re here and we miss them tremendously. We want to show them that we’re a bright light of hope and we will get back to normal eventually. The school is kind of like our family, and we miss our family. It’s just really quiet.”

John Millea, who writes John’s Journal for the MSHSL, helped get the “Be The Light” movement going through social media last week. He heard about lights going at schools in Colorado and began to spread the word, hoping Minnesota schools would join in.

Millea found himself in awe when he saw hundreds of photos of lit up stadiums throughout Minnesota circulating on social media Monday night.

“I think everybody is looking for ways to find some positives. It’s a small thing, but it’s a sign that we’re still here,” Millea said. “I had no idea what this would become and if it would even catch on at all. I just kind of threw it out there a week ago. It’s really been incredible. There really is a sense that every school in the state and every spring athlete is a part of this. It’s sad right now and it’s disappointing. For the seniors it’s got to be crushing, but I think this is a way to hold hands together. Everybody’s doing the same thing with these posts and that’s pretty darn rare in the state. For everyone to be making the same effort is pretty special.”

After some research, Millea discovered that “Be the Light” started on March 24 in Dumas High School. The full story of it’s start can be found on John’s Journal at mshsl.org.