07-02-2020 Tri-City Area Sports

LAST MHSAA SPORTING EVENT… before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped all events. Local athletes pictured from the 2020 Wrestling State Finals on March 7 are (from the left): 112 lbs. Trever Pelton from Watervliet on the shoulders of 189 lb. Don Smith also of Watervliet. To the right in the photo are: In back, 145 lb. Ian Ishmael and 285 lb. Cole Alsup and in front of Ian is 112 lb. Caleb Ishmael, all three of Coloma. (Contributed photo)


Coloma Press Box By Dave Vollrath


Coloma School administrators expect students in classrooms this fall

The first requirement that would be expected to take place, in order for our high school athletes to get back to competition this fall, would obviously be that the students would need to be back in the classrooms.

On Wednesday, June 24, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that the teachers and the students are expected to be meeting face to face, and in person, but of course there will most likely be some strict guidelines which would need to be followed to keep with the state’s continued efforts to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. More of what these requirements will be is supposed to be announced by the first of July. Some of these will certainly mean continued mask wearing, temperature checks, and increased sanitation for students and all staff.

Some of the talk you hear around town, and on social media sites, is about concerned parents who are unsure if they want to send their kids back to the schools until the virus is more under control. Of course no one knows at this time how that concern would affect an athlete who wants to compete, but chooses to continue with the virtual learning classes they may be able to take from home. These are some of the many issues which will certainly arise as we continue on this uncharted journey in trying to balance the safety and welfare of all in our population, and giving our students and athletes the opportunities to continue with their educational and physical needs.

Most all of the fall sports athletes for the Comets are now back and working with their coaches. Since the all clear was given a couple of weeks ago that they could have drills and conditioning outside only as long as social distancing, absolutely no contact, and what has become the normal COVID-19 precautionary practices are being strictly followed. All of the comments heard or read from coaches and players have all been positive and everyone is just happy to be back to some kind of normalcy, and being back with their teammates in any way they’re allowed.

The Comet cross-country team coached by Courtney Churchill had their first night together this week, and there were plenty of smiles to go around even if it was a sweltering night for their first gathering. A side note about Coach Churchill. She has kept her sanity through this health crisis by getting in her own miles running every day. She reported recently that she had been out for a daily run for 100 days in a row. Not only a grueling accomplishment for her as a runner and coach, but should absolutely give her team some incentive and a little mental boost when they are out on those long and sometimes lonely runs. Congratulations Coach, very impressive, especially when you’re pushing that little one in a cart with you.

National sports scene becoming clearer

Now that the United States knows that there will be major league baseball this summer, the NBA also announced their plans to continue their 2019-2020 season, and play it out until a champion is crowned. Both baseball and basketball will begin playing before the end of July, albeit without any fans in the stands.

The Detroit Tigers will be continuing their spring training-like workouts at Comerica Park in Detroit, with the Tigers also utilizing their triple-A team facilities nearby in Toledo for part of their 60-man squad they’re allowed to activate according to the newly altered rules. They will be back practicing early in July, with the newly agreed to 60-game regular season scheduled to begin on July 23. There’s one certainty for the Tigers, my Tigers, and that is they cannot lose 100 games this year!

The Chicago Cubs will similarly begin this summer practice in Wrigley Field. There is also added excitement in South Bend, where the Cubs minor league facility will host about a dozen of the Cubs for the summer training, and a place where players can continue to work out who don’t make the opening day roster.

The Chicago White Sox, of course another team with many fans in Southwestern Michigan, will also begin their summer workouts on July 1, in their Southside Chicago home, now named Guaranteed Rate Field.

The 60-game schedule for Tigers and White Sox, who both play in the American League Central Division, will be made up of 40 games against their own division teams including Cleveland, Kansas City, and Minnesota; the remaining 20 games are against the Central division of the National League. Conversely the Cubs will play 40 games in their Central division of the National League and the remaining 20 games against the AL Central teams. This means Southwest Michigan will see many matchups between these three teams, which hold the attention of the majority of fans in our area.

They will all begin the season with no fans in the stands and the usual COVID-19 precautions in place. The television schedule is still incomplete, but it’s a pretty good bet that fans can catch most all of the games on TV, for those have the proper sports package that fits their needs.

The PGA in their second year in returning to Detroit, this week hosts the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Country Club. But there will be no chance to see the best golfers in the world live, as this will be the fourth and final event played without fans allowed on the course. The Buick Open which was played on several different courses around the Detroit area from 1958 until 2009 was the last the PGA had a regular tour stop in the state of Michigan, until this event came on the scene just a year ago.

Hartford Prress Box By Jerrod Birmele


Looking ahead to Hartford Sports in the fall with optimism

As has been the case for it seems like months on end, we have continued to see the headlines about the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, the situation since March in the local sports world has seemed like a nightmare, as student-athletes had to sit out the entire spring sports season, and sit and wonder about if things would get back to normal before the next season began. Just in case, maybe it is time to deliver a little slice of simple normalcy this week.

Yes, I know that the fall sports season is far from a certainty – in fact, as I write this, there is greater uncertainty surrounding what will eventually happen. While the state has passed an executive order allowing professional sports to take place in Michigan this summer with national health guidelines in place and no fans in attendance, they have yet to release high school athletics for what would be considered anything “normal”.

What people have to remember is the MHSAA is following the states opening protocols, which are currently in stages four and five depending on where you are. In northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, a little more leeway has been given, and athletes are allowed indoors and in larger groups. Something we cannot do officially here yet. And with rising cases statewide, it may take even more time for a statewide stage five opening strategy to take place.

While keeping this in mind, in the instance that we will have fall sports as normal this year, let’s take an early view at what our teams will be looking at in terms of scheduling. If high school sports materialize, we will return in August with those full team previews as you have come to expect out of the Hartford Press Box.

Indian Football

The Hartford Indian Football team, which will be under the direction of new head coach Tom Matthews, has begun conditioning in the last few weeks and has seen a solid amount of athletes turn out to get in shape. Matthews comes to Hartford after a two-year stint in Benton Harbor in which the Tigers went 7-10 overall, but both seasons could have ended with winning records and trips to the playoffs.

The schedule this year will look different, as the Southwest 10 Conference has lost four schools to eight-player football since last season. Hartford along with Cassopolis, Centreville, Decatur, Mendon and White Pigeon, will be the six remaining eleven-man football members of the league this fall. This caused the Hartford Athletic Department to be creative to find four games to fill a nine-game schedule, but they have done so.

If conditions allow, the Indians will play five home games beginning on September 3 against non-conference opponent and rival, Watervliet. They will also host Centreville (Sept. 11), White Pigeon (Oct. 2), Decatur for Homecoming (Oct. 9) and non-conference opponent Kent City (Oct. 16). Road games include non-conference opponent Fennville (Aug. 27 at Hope College), Cassopolis (Sept. 18), Mendon (Sept. 25) and non-conference opponent South Haven (Oct. 23).

Indian Volleyball

The Hartford Indian Volleyball team, under the direction of Patty Matheny, has also been training hard despite being relegated outside due to the current closure of gymnasiums. The team is looking for better results if play allows, as the team could only muster a ninth-place finish in the Southwest 10 Conference last season. They did however make a postseason run to the district finals where they lost to Gobles.

The Lady Indians will compete in six home matches, seven away matches and five tournaments this coming season which includes the conference tournament at White Pigeon in mid-October where they look to improve on last year’s finish. Home matches on the docket include conference opponents Cassopolis (Sept. 15), Bangor (Sept. 29), Mendon (Oct. 1) and Marcellus (Oct. 6), while non-conference foes Watervliet (Oct. 22 – Special “Dig Pink” Match) and Berrien Springs (Oct. 27) will also make the trip to Indian Gymnasium.

Indian Soccer

The Hartford Indian Soccer team, under the direction of Nick Blackmer, has been getting back on the fields as of recent. They are looking to make another statement, and win conference and postseason honors again. The team is coming off of another successful season that saw them win 19 matches, and earn conference and district championship trophies. However, they just cannot get over the hump of winning a regional championship, but hope springs anew.

The team will play 15 matches, and participate in a pair of tournaments this year to get them to about 20 total matches in the regular season. While the two tournaments will be on the road – one at Adrian Lenawee Christian (Aug. 22) and the other at South Haven (Sept. 12), the Indians will play eight home matches this year. Among the home dates are conference opponents Bangor (Aug. 31), Bloomingdale (Sept. 3), Cassopolis (Sept. 10) and Marcellus (Sept. 30). Also on the home schedule are non-conference opponents Comstock (Aug. 24), the Hillsdale Academy (Sept. 17), Kalamazoo Christian (Sept. 24) and Holland Black River (Oct. 6).

Indian Cross-Country

The Hartford Indian Cross-Country teams, under the direction of coaches Luke Golas and Doug Paran, are off to a running start this summer, practicing everyday and getting their miles in despite the heat. The teams are coming off of a solid year in which both groups finished in the top-half of the Southwest 10 Conference standings. If there was some disappointment in the end, it was the fact that no runner got to the state meet last fall.

The Indian runners will host just one meet this year, the Teske Invitational on Sept. 10. The meet honors longtime Hartford coach and educator, Robert Teske, whom passed away suddenly in August 2007. The event returned to the schedule last year after being canceled in 2018. Other big meets include three Southwest 10 Conference jamborees at Decatur (Sept. 23), Bloomingdale (Oct. 7) and Centreville (Oct. 21) and the Division 3 regional meet at Portage West Middle School (Oct. 31).

Keep in mind that all these events and dates listed are subject to change, and increasingly so, in this time of many questions. But we are certainly hoping, for this writer’s sake and for the many fans of the Indians that we will have some sports to talk about this fall. I encourage you to keep your eye on the Hartford Press Box if it does happen – and hope we will be talking about a lot of victories in the months ahead!

As always, GO INDIANS

Press Box Player of the Week!

By John Oliphant

Tri-City Record Press Box Players of the Week for July 2, 2020 are the Panther spring athletes whose seasons and careers ended without a moment of competition.

On the softball field a Panther would have hit a dramatic game-winning double to end an extra-inning game against a rival. Earlier in the game a long throw from the outfield and a perfectly executed relay to third base made the final out in top of the seventh inning. Two of the pitchers combined to give up just a couple hits in the game while striking out nine and walking none.

On the baseball diamond a Panther runner would have been caught in a run-down and somehow survived to advance the third base, eventually scoring on a sharp base hit to left field on a fastball up in the zone. The RBI hitter was batting .436 at the time and having a career season. On defense the team regularly turned double plays and made plenty of diving catches.

On the track the Panther boys dominated the long distances all season, winning almost all of their regular meets and earning medals in the conference and regional meets. The young throwers had fine seasons, improving their personal bests by several yards.

The girls soccer team won a game on a beautiful last-second penalty kick that hooked into the goal, won a bunch of games in the cold and had several players earn post-season awards and honors.

The young golf team had a good season with lots of birdies and a shot that was inches from a hole-in-one. Three of the golfers made short runs in the post-season tournaments and earned various honors.

Yes, we can only dream of what could have happened on the busy fields and the stories that might have been here. Great plays, dramatic wins, heartbreaks and personal achievements. This spring we have to imagine what might have happened, but we know it would have been fun.

Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant


Sports during a pandemic

Local school boards and administrators, not to mention the entire public education world, are focused on how to get back to their core business of teaching and educating safely during the pandemic. Sports programs can be considered the entertainment side of that business, especially at colleges where only top athletes participate.

In the case of high schools the sports programs are widely available to all students, providing a distraction, entertainment, incentive, and tremendous growth opportunity for those who participate. Secondary sports programs are arguably non-essential but an education would definitely be less colorful and fulfilling without them.

So how will our beloved high school sports programs continue forward when the virus is still uncontrolled?

Sports present a special challenge because the virus spreads well among those in close and prolonged contact with each other. Even though many sports take place in the open air, the athletes spend almost all their time close together while breathing hard and in some cases close contact is the entire point of the activity. The athletes share locker rooms and are actively sharing sweat and spit for hours at a time. Bluntly, team sports are the opposite of social distancing.

However, the athletes are young and healthy, and to ask them they say they’re invincible. So will these teenagers exercise care, and practice all the precautions as required?

Working to their advantage is that young people tend to get much less severe COVID-19 symptoms. The student-athletes are in good physical condition and typically fight off any random bug better than the rest of us. There are exceptions, but our high school-age population generally makes it through a coronavirus infection more easily and quickly than the general population. Sometimes, they are totally asymptomatic throughout the course of the infection.

We have to be careful here, because “more easily” means the patient didn’t need hospitalization or a respirator, but even the moderate effects of the coronavirus can be pretty severe and long-lasting as compared to the annual flu we’re used to.

If our challenge was limited to surviving a bad flu we wouldn’t be living like we are right now. When an asymptomatic teenager spreads this virus around their home and community the more vulnerable among us are put at a much higher risk. And that is precisely what we are trying to avoid with masks and social distancing.

Is it possible to make high school sports safe enough, both for the athletes themselves and the community, too? Will we be able to monitor those athletes, take their temperatures and identify an infection? Can a high school coach segregate an asymptomatic athlete before he or she infects everyone in the team huddle? Those questions can’t be answered just yet.

Will there be a balancing act to resume our version of normal Friday night lights in the fall, or will we take every necessary precaution and jettison those activities deemed non-essential? The painful and sometimes emotional truth is: how much do we need sports during a pandemic? They represent a normalcy we all crave right now, but can we, as a community, afford to go back to that kind of normal?

These are questions every governor faces today for the state and economy as a whole. Athletic directors will be following their lead along with guidance from the MHSAA and local school boards and administrators. We don’t have any choice but to learn to live with this virus, but the big question hanging over our heads is just how we’re going to do that this fall.

Ladies Monday Night Happy Hour Golf League

June 29 golf report from the Paw Paw Lake Golf Club:

Weekly Event Winner – Stephanie Guse; Low Gross – Cheryl Hutchins with 53; Low Net – Stephanie Guse with 35; Low Putts – Katherine Rodriguez and Stephanie Guse with 16; Pars – Cheryl Hutchins #12 and #15, Stephanie Guse #18, Anita Hertz #18; Chip In – Cheryl Hutchins #15

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