07-09-2020 Tri-City Area Sports

Hartford Press Box By Jerrod Birmele

No change from the MHSAA – maybe no news is good news?

There is no denying that the coronavirus, and the current pandemic, continues to consume and dominate our everyday lives not only here in the Tri-City area, but worldwide for that matter. And while we are seeing signs of hope that professional sports may be coming back in the near future, the high school scene remains remarkably murky. An update from the Michigan High School Athletic Association recently continues that trend in the near term.

In an update sent to member schools on July 1, MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl brought everyone up-to-date on the current condition of the direction of high school athletics in Michigan. The opening sentence of the update sums up the current thoughts of the association, stating, “first of all, there have been no changes or updates to the Summer Guidance #2 document from June 9.”

In a recent edition of the Tri-City Record, this column detailed all of the current guidelines each sport must take this summer under the current restrictions in place. While we will not get into those specifics once again, some sports, including football in terms of fall sports, have a higher risk associated with it than other fall sports. We encourage you to look back in the archives, or go onto the MHSAA website, to get the most detailed information.

Continuing on, the MHSAA adds, “All of us must continue to follow both the letter and spirit of this guidance document in doing the right things now to create the fall, winter and spring sports opportunities we want.” That makes it rather clear that the association is working within the Governor’s Return to School Roadmap that was introduced in late-June, in which the MHSAA was tasked with coming up with three very key bullet points to return to athletics safely: plans, procedures and protocols.

Looking ahead, the key to in-school learning and the safe return to educational athletics will proceed best when the entire state is in stages 5 or 6 of the announced plan. However, recent events have led to a setback in certain areas of the state where localized coronavirus outbreaks continue to be detected, including in the Grand Rapids and Lansing areas. The MHSAA agrees, adding, “We must continue to do the right things now in all parts of the state to reach and remain in phases 5 and 6 for August and beyond.” This is easier said than done, unfortunately.

Luckily, the MHSAA has been working on contingency plans since the pandemic broke out in earnest in March, and those concepts have become the foundation of the plan under the road map. Right now, only three concepts are being brought forward, but there will likely be more guiding principles in the months ahead.

The number one guiding concept is that the MHSAA’s current plans are to play all scheduled fall sports in the fall, as is.

The number two guiding concept is that the MHSAA will do everything within their control to safely have all three high school sports seasons in the upcoming calendar year (2020-21), even if conditions were to change that require creativity to provide those three seasons. They added, “We owe it to our kids to plan this way, especially during these uncertain days of the pandemic.”

Finally, the number three guiding concept is something of a contingency that has been making the rounds throughout the last several weeks and would include the swap of fall and spring sports seasons this school year. This is due to concerns with indoor sports, including volleyball and girls swimming and diving, along with differing views on the status of football. However, as of this point, the plan going forward includes a normal slate of sports in their normal seasons, even if it means having to be flexible in how those seasons are conducted.

The MHSAA will be meeting virtually with leadership of fall sport coaches associations and MIAAA (Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) representatives on a sport-by-sport basis in the coming days and weeks to provide updates, exchange ideas and kick feedback and input around. All of these organizations will provide important feedback and input, and will help guide the MHSAA’s planning and decision making going forward.

Most importantly, the MHSAA added that circumstances, data and decisions made at the professional and collegiate levels with their set fall schedules, along with high school associations in other states, will be valuable and instructive in what the MHSAA plans will be come fall. Their goal is to ensure that they have the most current, accurate picture and data and give leadership at the school level adequate lead time to prepare and plan.

Personally, I do not envy athletic directors, like our own Nick Blackmer, or coaches for that matter in this current health climate. While the student-athletes are currently out doing summer workouts preparing like we will run cross-country or play football, soccer or volleyball like normal, there are more questions than answers. Administrators and coaches need time to plan, and if that includes sports this fall, they need every little iota of time to check every box, and ensure they are able to provide a safe environment for their student-athletes, even as they try to create some “normal” and prepare for competition.