CHAMPS… South Coast Blues 12U travel baseball team won the 2020 BPA World Series tournament in Sturgis on July 18. These athletes from all around Southwest Michigan, including Watervliet, Hartford, Dowagiac, and St. Joseph played 10 games in 3 days to win the series and receive rings. Their 2-year record of 51-9 reflects seven tournament wins out of the last 10 they participated in. Pictured (from the left) Front row – Caleb Jewell, Micah Herbst, Ryley Danapilis, Lennon Ellis; Middle row – Ruben Holleman, Brody Johnson, Rowan Bradford, Cooper Allwood, Isaac Weber, Bryce Vujtech, Owen Epple; Back row – coaches Clint Jewell, Mark Epple, John Johnson, and Marc Danapilis.
Coloma Press Box By Dave Vollrath
Coloma fall sports teams ready to begin practicing Aug. 10
It has now been about five months since COVID-19 threw a knockout punch and floored the sporting world which shut down competition of every kind, in every country on the planet. Almost all professional American sports have resumed competition, although the fans who pay the bill are still not allowed to be on hand to watch any of the goings on first hand. Most of the sports channels have games to televise every day now.
The best news is, for the moment, the high school fall sports season is still on track to be played in the proper sequence. All of the fall Coloma Comet teams has been trying to knock off the rust from months of home confinement, in preparation for practices to begin for real in the next couple of weeks.
On July 17 the MHSAA Representative Council approved a “return to activity plan” for the 2020-21 school year, retaining the traditional calendar of fall, winter, and spring sports. But also allowing for the possibility that, the fall sports which could be forced to halt activity during the next four months may conclude later in the school year.
According to MHSAA executive director Mark Uhl, “The council reflecting on the positive impact on their athletes this summer from taking part in offseason training, feels it’s of the utmost importance to continue athletic activity moving forward.” He also explained that there was a fear among members of the council that if they take a month or more off many of the student athletes will find opportunities to compete in non-school activities, where most of them are not as focused on safety. Uhl goes on to say, “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 the progress already made.”
Most fall sports are scheduled to begin regular practices on Aug. 12. However because no decision has been made regarding occupying the school buildings as of now, the volleyball teams may need to begin their practices outside until that bridge has been crossed. Boys soccer will also be allowed to begin practices on the 12th, but will only be able to practice with no scrimmages or competition allowed. Football practices will begin on the 10th, but practices in full player pads and equipment will be held off until the 17th.
The week of Aug. 10 for the football team may include practice sessions consisting of conditioning, physical training, and skills work, with only helmets allowed as equipment. As another safety measure, no scrimmages will be allowed for any of the three fall sports before the regular season competition begins. There will also be limitations put on the number of teams which can compete in tournaments and invitational events during the season. This would mostly affect the girls volleyball squad.
The MHSAA also posted on their web site a sport by sport guidance which outlines the increased precautions that will be taken to help prevent the viral spread. Some of the protocols which are outlined and would apply to all sports are guidelines for reporting COVID-19 infections. Guidance regarding the wearing of face coverings states, participating athletes are not required to wear them; however, bench personnel will have to wear them. Transportation, use of locker rooms, and properly cleaning the facilities is also outlined.
MLB moving on despite big virus outbreaks
Following the opening weekend of major league baseball, the Miami Marlins reportedly had more than a dozen players and team personnel test positive for the COVID-19 virus, and caused the first round of major scheduling changes which affected several teams. There were no other MLB teams who reported having any positive player tests at that time.
The schedule for this season has only 60 games, so all games are crucial. With the virus issues and rain outs the first week, MLB decided that because many doubleheaders would probably be needed to make up games, all doubleheaders would be only seven innings in length.
The Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, Aug. 2 played the first MLB doubleheader since 1912 where both games ended in under the regulation nine innings. The Tigers, who had a much unexpected winning start, beginning 5-3, dropped both of those games unfortunately. Another bomb was dropped on the league when it was announced on Monday Aug. 3, that 13 members of the St. Louis Cardinals team had tested positive for the virus. Six of those were players and seven were members of the team staff. The Cards were scheduled at the time for a 3-game series in Detroit, and all of those games were postponed leaving the Tigers without a game until Friday, Aug. 7.
MLB is continuing on, and is fluidly changing as needed. Everyone hopes that these are isolated breakouts and they can be curtailed by adhering to the safety measures already in place.
The Chicago White Sox have also jumped out to a good start with a 5-4 record, as they compete in the Central Division along with the Detroiters. That other team from Chicago, the Cubs, had the best record in the National League as of Monday, Aug. 3 and had already built a nice 2-1/2 game lead over the Brewers in the Central Division.
Horse racing and golf see action
The first leg of this year’s jumbled up Triple Crown of horse racing was run on Saturday, Aug. 1. With no fans allowed, it was very eerie as the 3-year-olds raced toward the finish line with only the noise from their hooves pounding on the turf. Tiz the Law won the race and now moves on to run next at the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5, normally the first leg of the Triple Crown which is usually run in May. The final leg, the Preakness Stakes, has been moved to Oct. 3.
The PGA made its yearly stop in Memphis last weekend, now a WGC event which only the top 64 players in the world rankings are eligible to compete in. Justin Thomas, who got a couple of great breaks on the back nine, wound up winning by three shots over four players who tied for second. The PGA now moves on to TPC Harding Park in San Francisco for the PGA championship. This will be the first major of the season for the PGA. Brooks Koepka, who was one of the players tied for second at Memphis, will be defending in this championship.
An interesting fact regarding last week’s victory, Justin Thomas became only the third player ever to pick up his 13th win before the age of 28. The other two golfers are pretty good also; they are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
In other golf news this week, it was decided that the U.S. Open, this year being played in September at Winged Foot in New York, will not allow fans on the course.
Hartford Prress Box By Jerrod Birmele
Hartford fall sports given green light – well, sort of
Well, obviously, the talk of recent has been about the effects of coronavirus, and what that will mean in terms of the opening of the public school districts for the start of the fall term in just about a month. High school student-athletes, meanwhile, have been awaiting a verdict regarding the fall sports season, and recently, the MHSAA looks to have given them the news they’ve been wanting – but it comes with a potential snag down the line.
On July 29, the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s representative council adopted “phasing” of fall sports, with the hope of deterring COVID-19 spread statewide.
However, in terms of Hartford athletics, only one checks the box for “normalcy”. Cross-country will be allowed to begin practice on Aug. 12 and begin competition on their traditional start dates (Aug. 19 or 21). Also allowed, but not Hartford sports, include girls golf (Lower Peninsula), boys tennis (Lower Peninsula), girls tennis (Upper Peninsula), and girls swimming and diving (Lower Peninsula).
Now, on to higher-risk sports like football, boys soccer and volleyball. The MHSAA announced practices can begin on schedule, but not competition; meaning no games may be played. Practices for football may begin on Aug. 10, while boys soccer and volleyball can begin on Aug. 12. A decision on a competition timeline for these sports will be made available by the MHSAA no later than Aug. 20.
The beginning of official practices will arrive with plenty of uncertainty, and a stipulation of several contingencies. It is safe to say this fall season, if it is completed without suspension, will be far from the normal season that athletic administrators, coaches, players, families and spectators have ever seen in their lifetime. It has been a crazy last five months for everyone, so what’s a little more craziness!
Among the stipulations that the MHSAA has set forth includes, but is not limited to: football practices with full pads and equipment must be moved back to Monday, Aug. 17; the week prior may include conditioning, physical training and skill work with helmets, just as many teams have been doing for the majority of the summer already. Meanwhile, volleyball may start their practices outdoors, as current restrictions in Lower Michigan do not allow indoor gatherings, rendering indoor practices and games out for the time-being.
In all sports, the MHSAA has canceled scrimmages for fall sports, and limited the amount of participants and teams that may compete together in regular season tournaments and invitationals, among other things. In their press release, the association found that eliminating scrimmages would keep teams from “mixing” before the first date of official competition, and regular-season limitations may lessen the opportunity for viral spread while still allowing competitions to proceed as scheduled.
While all the information above seems promising, this all comes with reservations. The situation nationally, let alone at the state level, remains fluid. The MHSAA says the delay in announcing competition plans for football, boys soccer and volleyball is all dependent on how the spread of COVID-19 is trending statewide. The fall sports plan also remains reliant on metrics measuring virus spread and progression by schools and regions in accordance to the Governor’s MI Safe Start Plan.
Currently, only the Upper Peninsula and the area near Traverse City is in “Phase 5”, while, as mentioned before, the remainder of the state is in “Phase 4”, eliminating indoor training, practice and competitions. It should also be noted last week, the Governor also limited indoor gatherings to 10-or-less in the “Phase 5” regions, further complicating plans for indoor sports this fall season statewide.
In addition, the MHSAA released individual sport-by-sport documents with outlined protocols designed to limit the virus spread, in addition to a four-page overview with general precautions that can be used by all sports, and include topics such as: protocol for reporting COVID-19 infections, guidance on face coverings, and transportation and the use of facilities including locker rooms and facility cleaning. Specific guidelines are available for viewing on the MHSAA website on the specific sport pages. Spectator attendance will be published before the season, but please note that spectators will be limited in accordance with Governor Whitmer’s orders on large gatherings, which currently sits at a total of 100 people. With the recent rise in cases, it does not appear this will change any time soon.
In short, the MHSAA’s return-to-activity plan for maintaining a fall, winter and spring sports season this year is still being followed, but continues with the possibility of a halt during the next several months that would postpone fall action until later in the school year. If a delay occurs, this could cause a plethora of problems with overrunning sports if things are not done the correct way.
On the outside, it appears that the MHSAA has done due diligence, but has the ability to lead by example, and do more to protect our state’s student-athletes. In many ways they are following what the NFHS and other state athletic associations are doing, and it is a good thing that everyone is sharing ideas. It is imperative in these uncertain and unique times that we all work together for the purpose of health, safety, and well-being for all involved.
The MHSAA must realize that every decision they make will have a huge impact and implication going forward, and will create a significant positive or negative reaction. As a group, they need to keep every option open, work with the state and local county health departments to remain ahead of the coronavirus situation and be open to ideas from public school and athletic leadership outside of the MHSAA headquarters and the representative council.
In this writer’s opinion, the start of practices for the fall sports season may be clear, but competition in the short-term, let alone all fall, is far from certain. Yes, as a sportswriter, you want to see student-athletes representing the community and school with honor and winning games. After all, sports are an important part of what we do here at the Tri-City Record, and it keeps subscribers informed in a professional manner that they expect in our small towns. But, as a person without his writer’s hat on, it’s hard to look past the glaring negatives.
Just look at professional sports that have been traveling around, much like our schools will do soon. While professional leagues like the NBA and NHL are playing in “bubbles” in places like Orlando, Edmonton and Toronto while attempting to mitigate team spread, Major League Baseball is traveling city-to-city and now has had multiple teams in the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins have to postpone and cancel games and enter quarantine because of spread in their players and staff, and has caused a ripple effect to other teams having to do the same for fear of contracting it, as well.
Locally, in the face of increased testing, cases have been rising statewide to an average of around or over 700 per day as recently as last week. And while the 3.6% positive rate is considered just “medium risk”, it is above the 3% threshold the state would like to see in keeping the virus somewhat in check.
Also, even though schools are planning to open to in-person learning this fall, a change in the wrong direction in the near-term will cause those plans to change on the snap of a finger, and athletics would end at the same time. In response to the ever changing way of daily life, Hartford is among the newest schools to announce a new normal for education this fall, announcing in the past few days an “online school” option for those who wish for their kids to stay home.
The effect of the virus on team numbers for high school sports teams have yet to be seen with official practices having not begun yet. But early indications at other levels of sports would indicate that there will be some parents that will elect to not have their son’s or daughter’s playing sports or participating in other activities this year. Only time will tell how big that dent may be.
To say that our lifestyle from last August to now has changed is an understatement. If we wish to see sports news and statistics in our local weekly newspapers once again, we must work together. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Think about the seniors and their teammates who have worked all summer to have those winning moments, and who hope to play and run for conference, district and regional championships. Whether you like the regulations and rules of today’s day and age, please just do it for them. Maybe, just maybe, we will have some sports to report soon because of the actions we all took.
As always, GO INDIANS!
Press Box Player of the Week!
By Dave Vollrath
Press Box Player of the Week for Aug. 6, 2020 is Coloma Comet junior cross-country runner Chloe Williams.
Chloe seems to have found her stride and her fall sport, following a freshman year when she played volleyball. She began running cross-country starting her sophomore year and hasn’t looked back.
According to Comet head coach Courtney Churchill, Chloe has worked very hard. During the state’s lockdown, Chloe could be found out running on her own almost every day. Coach Churchill also says that Chloe is a positive leader and role model for the younger athletes.
Chloe recently competed and learned a great deal more about the sport, by attending an HQ2 Cross Country Camp. Chloe was a steady runner during the 2019-20 season, and was one of the Comet runners who competed in the State D-3 finals at the Michigan International Speedway. She will be looking to improve on her personal best from last year, which was a 22:36.5 when she ran at the Portage Invitational.
Chloe is a leader in the classroom as well and is a member of the National Honor Society. Her parents are Scott and Jennifer Williams of Coloma. When she’s not out running the roads around the area, Chloe loves to go on long bike rides with her mom, and spending quality time with her grandmother. In the spring and summer, Chloe can also be found on the softball diamonds.
Tri-City Record congratulates Chloe for this award, and looks forward to all she can accomplish running into the future.
Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant
Panther summer baseball
Watervliet has just one American Legion baseball player in the mix this season. Rising junior Andrew Chisek played for Stevensville Legion Post 568. The “19U” team posted a stellar 24-5-1 record this summer, beating teams all over western and northern Michigan as well as in Indiana and Illinois. The team was loaded with offense, beating many of their opponents by 10 runs and winning some close ones, too.
Chisek was among the batting leaders, stroking .385 in 21 games and 60 plate appearances, landing him 4th in batting on the team. He made the most of his 20 hits, collecting 17 RBI and scoring 10 runs. He also pitched for the team, starting four games and posting a 3-1 record and notching 17 strikeouts in 13.2 innings pitched.
There are a few other Panther athletes, boys and girls, who played ball this summer and Watervliet Press Box is looking for more information about their seasons. Many of the travel teams are holding 2021 season try-outs in the coming weeks.
Fall sports activity
A quick note, students who participate in the various forms of virtual education this fall will be allowed to participate in high school sports programs. Typically the MHSAA prohibits this, but they’re making exceptions for this school year due to the expected numbers of students staying away from the crowds inside school buildings.
Fall sports activities continue in a limited fashion. Volleyball conditioning and drills are being held on the grass of the football stadium because indoor school facilities are still closed. The soccer teams are on their normal surfaces but practices have only slight limits to their activities. Cross country is ready to go with full and unlimited practices starting next week.
Football practices look dramatically different so far this year with 7-on-7 drills postponed until next week, and all scrimmages and practices with other schools eliminated by the MHSAA. The football team is not able to go to camp this year, the first time that hasn’t happened in recent memory. Distancing and safety is a challenge in a full-contact sport, and the coaching staff and players are doing their best to both prepare and make it to the starting line.
Ladies Monday Night Happy Hour Golf League
Aug. 3 Golf Report from the Paw Paw Lake Golf Club: Weekly Event, Closest to the pin Hole #3 – Penny Hanks; Low Gross – Cheryl Hutchins and Kathy Osborne with 46; Low Net – Kathy Osborne with 34; Low Putts – Colleen McKeown and Sue Pantaleo with 15; Pars – Kathy Osborne #4, Cheryl Hutchins #5 and Judy Lynch #3.