The return of high school sports Monday was exciting for Jackson Macho. That excitement had nothing to do with a high school activity being back for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic brought activities to a halt last March.

“For me, it’s a big deal to be back at practice,’’ Macho, a senior at Grand Forks Central High School, said. “But it’s big because it’s soccer. I love to play.’’

Monday was season-opening practice for boys soccer. It is the first fall sport sanctioned by the North Dakota High School Activities Association to start. Central had its initial practice at 8:30 a.m. Monday; Grand Forks Red River opened at 10 a.m.

There were 28 athletes on the soccer field for Central. Red River had almost 50. Coaches were required to wear masks as a safety precaution against the virus. Athletes weren’t required to wear a mask; none did for either team.

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“We’re all still watching out for it,’’ Central senior Colten Mitchell said. “We’re trying to social distance as much as possible during practices. Obviously, you think about (COVID-19). You have to watch out for your family and friends. But it’s great just to be playing again.’’

There were some doubts among the athletes that the season would go on. It was given the go-ahead on July 24 when the NDHSAA board of directors voted to move forward with the fall seasons as scheduled.

“For awhile I wondered if we’d have a season,’’ Macho said. “When they voted to have one, that’s probably the most excited I’ve ever been. Nobody wants to miss out on their senior season.’’

The coaches will adapt to precautions for COVID-19.

Central coach Luke Schulz said he will sanitize equipment before practice every day. Players will match up with the same partner for drills throughout the season. Social distancing will be followed as much as possible.

“Obviously, when we scrimmage or start playing games, there will be contact. It will be the same (as in the past),’’ Schulz said.

“I think it’s a big deal for the kids to be back playing. After watching all the spring sports being canceled, I was worried about having fall sports. We’re really excited to be out here.’’

Some of the soccer players competed on summer travel teams. To Red River coach Luke Glasoe, that shows that the fall season can go on.

“Nothing in the actual game has changed,’’ Glasoe said. “The guys have been playing all summer. This isn’t something the schools can’t handle.’’

Schulz said he didn’t think any athletes were concerned about the virus once practice started.

“That’s the beauty of being a kid,’’ Schulz said. “They’re worried about playing and being with friends. I think they are concerned about the season being canceled at some point. But I don’t think they’re worried about the actual virus out here.’’

Said Mitchell: “No matter what, we’ll have a fun season as long as we get to keep playing.’’