Coronavirus sidelines U of O events

Monday, May 18, 2020

Some popular events with decades of history hope to return with pomp and pageantry in 2021.

University of Okoboji officials at The Three Sons in Milford have called off 2020 versions of the U of O Classic Invitational Soccer Tournament, the annual Cycling Classic and the marathon, triathlon, half-marathon and 10K portion of University of Okoboji Homecoming Weekend.

"The college spirit the U of O is famous for will not be postponed or canceled," university co-founder Herman Richter said. "This summer, we encourage all students and alumni to please enjoy the Iowa Great Lakes Area — the campus of the University of Okoboji."

Members of the Spirit Lake Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors will meet Friday to decide the future of BRASL in 2020 — the 28th Annual Bike Ride Around Spirit Lake. It is scheduled to begin July 11. The traditional ride includes a 15-mile route around Big Spirit Lake. Portions of Minnesota are added for the 25 and 50 mile rides.

The July 11-12 University of Okoboji Tennis Classic remains a possibility at Speier Park in Okoboji.

"We've taken no action on the tennis tournament," Richter said. "It's not as large."

Organizers classify event as "pending future developments" because they want to keep local health concerns and state orders in mind. The tennis tournament draws 50-60 participants each year, and the nature of the sport may lend itself to social distancing practices.

"We're going to be very socially-conscious in what's best for the participants, fans and everybody," Richter said.


The University of Okoboji Invitational Soccer Tournament literally kicks off the U of O sports season most summers.

"We hope you all stay safe and look forward to seeing you for the 43rd Annual University of Okoboji Invitational Soccer Tournament on June 12-13, 2021," an announcement on the official University of Okoboji website said.

The 2021 tournament will take place at the Bedell Family YMCA in Spirit Lake.

The event draws hundreds of participants and their families from the Omaha area and teams are divided into four Catholic Youth Soccer League (CYSL) age groups — under 12 girls, under 12 boys under 14 girls and under 14 boys.

The University of Okoboji invitational was one of many Omaha youth soccer events canceled due to COVID-19.

"The health and wellness of our players, coaches, referees, parents and spectators are of utmost importance to us," CYSL President Jeremy List told families on the organization's message board. "As such, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the spring 2020 CYSL season. This decision was not made lightly, but we feel it's in the best interest of all parties."

U of O volunteers were looking forward to the 36th Annual Cycling Classic as well. It was scheduled for June 27.


Plans to pedal and picnic have been postponed in Milford.

"The ride will be postponed until the last Saturday of June 2021," a U of O announcement said. "The safety of our volunteers and wonderful participants is our top priority. With the current conditions, we cannot ask all our friends to congregate together in a large group."

The University of Okoboji Cycling Classic traditionally gives participants three options. The 25-mile ride takes participants around West Lake Okoboji. A trip around West Lake and East Lake encompasses 50 miles. For the serious riders, 100 miles takes them around West Lake, up around Big Spirit to Loon Lake and back down the east side. All rides ended back at Florence Park in Milford, where it all started.

Organizers noted the Dickinson County Trails Association's work to expand the trail system throughout the Iowa Great Lakes.

"Postponing the ride will allow us to change some of the routes and/or expand our current routes," the U of O statement said. "If you have already registered there are some options. If you used, you can go through them to refund your money. If you sent your registration form directly to us, we can either refund your money or we will preregister you for 2021. So, keep biking at least 6 feet apart, stay in shape and be ready for the 36th Annual University of Okoboji Cycling Classic."


About 1,000 people take part in the University of Okoboji running and triathlon events near Wahpeton and the State Pier.

"Even if they take the cap off of social gatherings, that is too large an event for that area," Richter said. "There's just too much congestion and too much going on there."

It’s estimated the inaugural University of Okoboji Homecoming weekend attracted less than 100 participants to the Lakes Area campus. The year was 1978, and U of O Director for Life Bob Rose said he and fellow founders, including Paul Williams, Steve Avery, Ray Tredway and Richter — the U of O Director of Student Affairs — weren't sure the event had the momentum to last. The 2020 weekend would have marked the 42nd annual homecoming.

"With the incredible improvements of the Dickinson County Trails, and of course the amusement park and all the different things, it just shows what a positive attitude and funding can do," Richter said, before last year's event. "Positive attitude is a big factor."

Organizers routed runners down Highway 86 in the early days and tracked times with stop watches and notepads — penning final times on massive charts hung inside the Roof Garden ballroom. In recent years, courses run along lengthy stretches of the Dickinson County Trail system, and times have been tracked electronically by AllSportCentral of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The event has continued to grow, and Rose said local spectators along the courses are a major part of the fun. For 2020, the emphasis will be on keeping the supporters and participants healthy.

"You have lakeshore, you have people sitting on their lawn chairs, using their garden hose and hosing you down," Rose said. "That's all part of this too — the people that are giving you some encouragement and lying to you, telling you how good you look. It makes you feel better."

Events still on the schedule — but subject to change — include:

• Aug. 1 — University of Okoboji Open Water Swim

• Aug. 15-16 — University of Okoboji Slow Pitch Softball

• Sept. 11-13 — University of Okoboji Couples Golf

• Sept. 26 — University of Okoboji Oktoberfest Weekend Bike Ride

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