07-23-2020 Tri-City Area Sports

Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant

Panther Football history The COVID curveball is keeping us all guessing what’s going to happen next. One of those possibilities was an attempt to postpone a couple heavy-contact sports until spring and bring spring sports to the fall. Fortunately the MHSAA recently agreed with just about everyone else that swapping the seasons wasn’t workable and didn’t do much to solve the virus-related problems. The bet was that full-contact sports, especially the big-money football season, would be safer in the spring when the rules will be relaxed. But that also meant bringing full-contact sports like boys soccer and lacrosse into the fall, as well as indoor sports like swimming and diving. The football season in California has been pushed back into the winter, but obviously that’s not going to work in any of the cold-weather states. As of this moment the regular fall sports schedule is still in effect, with full football practice starting August 10 and all other fall sports beginning on August 12. The first week of the regular season football schedule begins the week of August 20 and the others have varying schedules. Of course, all of this scheduling is subject to state restrictions. As a result of the no-contact rule currently in place the Panthers have not been able to participate in 7-on-7 drills with local schools, and team workouts have been somewhat limited, too. Cross your fingers, wear your masks, and avoid large gatherings and travel. We’ll see how well that goes.

Hartford Prress Box By Jerrod Birmele

MHSAA gives fall sports “green light”; but will it actually happen? The coronavirus pandemic has changed everybody’s way of life over the last four months, and has led to the cancellation of so many different aspects – school, graduations, sports, festivals, and more. In turn, people across the country have been looking for those bright spots, and as a sport reporter, the opening of sports has been one of them. Another bright spot for local athletes came last week via an important announcement from the MHSAA. On July 17, the Michigan High School Athletic Association issued “Summer Update #4” which stated that the organization’s current plan is to begin the 2020-21 school year playing fall sports as originally planned. While the announcement looked good in its opening sentence, it added “but with contingency concepts for potential interruptions due to the spread of COVID-19.” The 19-member legislative body, the Representative Council, made up of administrators and athletic directors from schools of all sizes throughout the state, met virtually to discuss the viability of having fall sports as scheduled this year. While a decision was made at their July 15 meeting, they will meet again next week for further discussions. A solid decision must be made soon, as football practice is set to begin Aug. 10 and all other sports two days later. This puts administrators, athletic directors, coaches and players all in a tough predicament. Summer conditioning, with the obvious restrictions, has been going on for a few weeks now. While conditioning will continue in the near future, nothing is completely set in stone. With the conditions changing minute-by-minute, fall sports can be postponed by the snap of a finger. This will require everyone to stay on their toes, and remain cautiously optimistic. With concerns in mind, the MHSAA has come up with a four-step “return-to-play” plan. This plan will allow for multiple scenarios the organization can use in the case that sports can be played as scheduled, or in the case COVID-19 has other plans. One way or another, they are trying to play three sports seasons this school year. The plans include: play fall sports in the fall, as scheduled; if conditions deem it necessary, delay the start of some, or all, fall sports practices and competitions; if conditions allow only some sports, play lower-risk fall sports with higher-risk sports postponed until later in the school year; and if any fall sports are postponed or suspended, resume the season using a reconfigured calendar that would see a completion of the winter sports season, followed by fall and spring seasons potentially extending into next-July. The MHSAA noted in their press release that the Representative Council did consider concepts that would have swapped fall and spring sports, but did not believe it to be a feasible plan, due to potential moderate and high-risk sports in both seasons (including football, volleyball and soccer). They also determined moving selected sports around to other seasons would not work, as it would make student-athletes pick between sports and would have created other logistical problems. However, all of these plans remain in the state government’s hands, and specifically, Governor Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan. Currently, the UP and northern Michigan are in “phase 5”, while all other regions are in “phase 4”. Here locally, what that means is no indoor training, practice or competition can be held. If we drop to “phases 1-3”, no school in-person education can exist, let alone athletics. As a high school sports fan and writer, I welcome this news. However, if I take that hat off and become a realist, it’s a lot more questions than answers. The biggest issue I have is how do you protect coaches and student-athletes? I understand, they are doing temperature checks and COVID-19 history now, and while that is great, it does not tell the whole picture. We know that many cases of the coronavirus come with “silent” symptoms, yet, without proper testing protocols in place