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  • Jim Townsend

Local high school coaches and admins face challenges with preparing for a Fall season with COVID-19

On July 29th, the Michigan High school Athletic Association (MHSAA) announced that its Representative Council had “approved the next steps in returning sports for member schools, adopting a plan to phase in competition for Fall sports in hopes of continuing to deter the spread of COVID-19.”

According to the release from MHSAA, “The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.”

In this phased plan, lower-risk sports like girls golf, boys tennis and cross country can begin their pre-season practices as scheduled on August 12th, and can begin contests on August 19th and 21st as traditional scheduled.

Football, girls volleyball, and boys soccer were identified as moderate to high-risk sports when it comes to COVID-19. According to the MHSAA, these sports “may begin practice but not competition. Decisions about competition timelines for these three sports will be made by Aug. 20.”

As it stands now, practices may begin on August 12th for boys soccer and girls volleyball. The MHSAA says that on August 10th, football may hold “practice sessions consisting of conditioning, physical training and skill work with no other player equipment except helmets.” Football teams may not start practice with full pads and equipment until Monday, August 17th.

All pre-season scrimmages for fall high school sports were canceled by the MHSAA, and limits have been imposed on the number of teams that can participate in a single tournament or multi-team event.

As it stands now for varsity football, both local squads kick off their season on Thursday, August 27th. The Raiders first match-up is Ovid-Elsie, while the Shamrocks first game is at Climax Scotts against Battle Creek St. Philip.

“The Council, reflecting on the positive impact on their athletes this summer from taking part in offseason training, feels it’s of utmost importance to continue athletic activity moving forward,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “If we take a month off, our students will find opportunities to compete through non-school entities that may not be as focused on safety. Our athletic directors and coaches can provide the safest-possible environment to return to sports, and this phased-in approach to competition will help schools continue building on progress already made.”

Uyl added, “The Council chose to make these adjustments to help ensure our athletes have a safe regular season this fall. As we continue to solidify the regular season, we can then turn our attention to building a safe postseason for our athletes.”

The MHSAA also released sport specific guidelines for health and safety considerations due to COVID-19.

Soon after the MHSAA’s announcement on July 29th, the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) issued a statement expressing their support for the plan. The MIAAA statement said, “With the recent decision of the Representative Council, the legislative body of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) - concerning the upcoming sport season schedules in our state, the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) is offering its full support to the MHSAA. We understand the decision to make the adjustments to the sport seasons and Tournament plans that schools will follow for the 2020-2021 school year, was made based on the best information available at this time, and was done so in an effort to meet the health, safety, social, and emotional needs of the students in Michigan.”

The Portland Beacon reached out to athletic directors and fall varsity coaches at both Portland High School and St. Patrick School to see how the COVD-19 related uncertainty was impacting their pre-season planning.

Chris Roof is the head coach for the PHS girls soccer team. He told the Beacon, “I think how most of us feel probably isn't appropriate to be For myself is frustrating that there isn't much consistently or concrete guidance in what the MSHAA is providing us. They just need to make a decision one way or the other and stop stringing us along with the hope of having fall sports. We just need to let the kids play and let the parents enjoying watching their kids play sports. We have gone from masks being recommended to now mandatory at times. They literally suggest that we have our kids sit more than 6 ft apart on the bench and make them wear masks. I cant even open my outside restrooms at my soccer field or even put in a porta john so my kids can go to the bathroom. The restrictions they have are not allowing us to fully prepare for the season. While conditioning is great our kids are losing their technical and tactical abilities by their restrictions.”

Roof, who is actively involved with Portland youth soccer program, added, “This is having a negative effect on our youth sports as well. Parents don't and wont register their kids since everything is still "up in the air". Many parents have already made the decision to tell their kids not sports this fall. It's very sad and disappointing.”

PHS golf coach Sarah Honsowitz said, “The golf team is able to start practice on August 12th and competitions on August 19th. The largest hurdles the team faces are: the logistics involved with transportation to matches, the limited number of golfers on each hole of the course, digital scorekeeping using an app on their phones, and safety protocols before, during and after matches.”

The Raider golf team’s first contest is currently listed as Perry – Larry Judson Invitation on August 19th.

PHS Athletic Director Kevin Veale said, “As of now, we are moving along as we normally would since at this time, fall sports are slated to start on their normal dates (with some tweaks to the closer contact sports). Just crossing my fingers that it works out and lasts but we have to keep the best interests and health of the kids and coaches as the top priority. These are unprecedented times and a brand new situation so there is really no way to guess how things will go or how long fall sports will last but we are hoping for the best and preparing for the unknown at the same time.”

While supporters of high school athletics will likely have to live with the challenges of COVID-19 for months to come, I think it is safe to say that we all look forward to seeing the Raiders and Shamrocks back in action as soon as it can be done safely.

Photo by AJ Guilford.

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