HUTCHINSON, MINN. — They sat in their cars in the school parking lot Tuesday morning, checking Twitter nonstop, anxious to learn the fate of fall sports in Minnesota, hopeful that good news would pop up on their screen.
"Hope," Hutchinson High senior Tristan Hoppe said. "That's a big word."
Three of Hutchinson's senior football captains — Ty Glaser, Jordan Titus and Hoppe — huddled outside their stadium as the Minnesota State High School League went sport by sport in deciding and then announcing when each season would be held.
There was a moment of optimism when the governing body kept the soccer season in the fall. Maybe that would help football's chances since it is an outdoor sport, too, Titus said.
Then it was football's turn. The mood changed when the league voted to push the season to spring. The teenagers went silent. They stared at the ground. Their disappointment was not hard to detect.
"For sure," Glaser said softly.
This is not how they envisioned their senior season. Football is king in this small town known as "Hutch." Friday nights in the fall are meant for one thing: Tigers football.
Little kids dream of wearing that uniform. The father-son coaching tree of Grady and Andy Rostberg has maintained a football powerhouse through multiple generations and five combined state championships.
Fans arrive early on Friday mornings to put down blankets on the bleachers to secure their spot. Hoppe would look out the window of his math class last season and see fans walking into the stadium in the morning to make sure they got a good seat.
"If you don't put it down," he said, "you don't get a spot."
Fans line the fence that surrounds the field, too. A good spot to cheer for the players as they exit the locker room for the short jog to the field.
"I get chills," Hoppe said.
Spring football won't have that same aura. It's still football, and that's better than nothing, but you can understand the disappointment those seniors felt Tuesday.
This wretched pandemic ruined spring sports for kids across Minnesota, and now it's spilling into another season. Young people who invest so much of their lives into activities they love have every right to feel sad and angry and want to shout until their throats burn.
Hutch's football captains said they understand the health risks, but they felt comfortable taking the field in the fall.
"It's a mix of frustration and gratefulness," Titus said. "I'm still grateful that we have a season. It just didn't pan out how I thought it would."
Pushing football to spring brings a lot of questions. Hutchinson, for instance, has a grass field. How will the Tigers practice and play on that in March?
"There will be a foot of snow, the wind will be blowing, the ground will be frozen, you'll ruin the field," Andy Rostberg said. "I don't know if we'll be playing games at 9 a.m. because we're looking for turf fields for everybody to play on."
This situation is so unusual that processing it and accepting it will take some time. Another gut punch for kids who have had to deal with a lot of those since March.
"It's going to be weird, I've never not been playing a sport," said Glaser, a three-sport athlete. "I go straight from football to hockey to baseball. There's no break in between any of them."
Asked how he might fill his time this fall, he shrugged. "I don't know," he said.
Teams can practice in the fall, but Rostberg isn't too keen on that idea. Games, he said, are the "carrot" in competition.
"If we're just going to run around in shorts and T-shirts, that lasts about two days and then you go, 'Let's just go hunting,' " he said.
Besides, his players already have been training for this season since March. A few seniors have been getting up at 6 a.m. to work out in a sand pit every day for the past few months. The carrot dangling throughout the grind of summer workouts has always been fall football.
March felt a galaxy away to those three captains as they stood together on their football field Tuesday.
"It's pretty special what we have here," Glaser said. "Not many towns, not many places, experience the same things that we do."
Friday nights this fall will be different. Fans won't arrive in the morning to put down their blankets. The town won't buzz with anticipation.
Hoppe paused for a second as he contemplated how things will feel.
"Empty," he said.