In some ways, it’s been a very quick summer, with graduations, vacations and many other things that take up time.

But it also seems like quite a while since a high-school team put on an athletic event. Come Monday, that’s about to change.

There are certain dates on the calendar that mean something special. On the second Thursday in April, golfers tee it up in Georgia on the most iconic golf course in the United States. On the first Saturday in May, about 20 horses run 11/4 miles in Kentucky in the most exciting two minutes in sports.

The second weekend in May usually brings Minnesota’s fishing opener, and on the second weekend in November, the woods are full of blaze-orange hunters, stalking deer.

Monday is another one of those days. It’s the first day that high-school sports teams can begin holding organized practices. Most of these athletes have been working out all summer, trying to improve their skills in weight rooms, leagues and camps.

But there’s still something special about that first practice with teammates.

The Maple River football team gets it started with a midnight practice Monday, but by the end of that day, hundreds of local athletes will have experienced the thrill and pain of the first team workout.

Tennis, swimming, cross country, soccer, football, volleyball ... everyone is starting Monday, with optimism and excitement that will be tested at some point this season. But it’s going to be a great season, regardless of wins and losses, because of the pregame meals, postgame get-togethers, road trips and team bonding.

There are new coaches who are getting a little nervous right now, wondering what they may have gotten into. There are young athletes who are excited to join the varsity, a bit apprehensive about taking that significant leap. There are seniors who are starting to realize that their days of high-school sports are numbered, and they’re hoping that this season will be their best.

Conference championships? Maybe.

All-conference honors? Perhaps.

State tournaments? That would be great.

But that’s the dream, not the focus right now. Individual improvement and team chemistry come first, and that starts in earnest on Monday. Two-a-day practices might seem like a drag, but those will be some fond memories in a few years.

Soon, games will begin, and the season will fly by. It won’t be long until the majority of athletes will no longer get the opportunity to practice and play. It’s important that they savor and take advantage of each time they take the court or course or pool or field.

It’s exciting for another season of high-school sports to get underway. It’s been a quick summer, and it’s time to get back into routine of practices and games.

Vacations are fun, but there’s nothing quite like the school and community joining together for an athletic event, enjoying the atmosphere and appreciating the effort.

Those are memories that begin to take shape on a practice field on the second Monday of August. It’s been a long summer, and it’s time for some games.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-3446353, email at ccourrier@ or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.

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