EAST LANSING — Little has changed on whether high school athletic seasons can resume since the Michigan High School Athletic Association halted its winter postseason tournaments March 12 and suspended all activities through April 5.
Tuesday, the MHSAA extended the suspension through April 13 to fall in line with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “stay home, stay safe” order, which was issued Monday in an effort to curb the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Michigan.
But the high school sports governing body is still hopeful its spring season and winter postseason can eventually resume.
“When we can, we’ll sit for a few days and see how things continue to develop and we’ll hold out whatever hope that we can,” MHSAA representative Geoff Kimmerly said. “That’s the big thing we are being asked by people is to hold out hope. We’ve heard from more athletes over the last few weeks than we ever hear from and obviously their stories mean a lot to us; just like the feedback we’ve gotten from coaches, officials and administrators. So we’re going to hold on here as long as we can.”
There are logistical challenges that stem from being on hiatus, but Kimmerly said the MHSAA is ready to tackle them. Restarting the academic year, however, is the top priority.
“Best-case scenario is we’re back in school in three weeks,” he said. “First and foremost we’re not going to get in the way of what schools need to do academically, but if we’re back into school by late April that’d be huge. (From there) what we want people to realize is that this is obviously an unprecedented event in our lifetime and whatever we come up with is going to be unprecedented. But whatever we do come up with will be our best effort at providing those tournament endings and memory-making experiences for our athletes.”
Through Wednesday, Michigan had 2,294 cases of COVID-19 and 43 deaths, according to the state health department. The Shiawassee County Health Department confirmed the county’s first presumptive case of COVID-19 Wednesday, a 33-year-old man from Owosso. Most cases have been centered in the metro Detroit area.
Whitmer’s order Monday shuttered most businesses in Michigan through April 13, with exceptions for critical infrastructure.
High school athletic activities halted include practices, scrimmages and competitions/games, as well as strength training, conditioning and any other organized sessions and activities in all in-season and out-of-season sports.
“We’re kind of working on a three-week cycle, because that’s what the government put in place at (this) point, and we decided that we had room for (at least) two three week cycles before we get to May,” Kimmerly said. “Obviously the (stay at home order) breaks into that second three weeks a little bit, but we haven’t changed anything at this point — I think we’re going to take our time in making that final decision.”
For the MHSSA, that decision took both a rapid and evolving response as the situation changed over the course of a week.
“Things moved really quickly, so much so that it got to the point where we were writing down a timeline just for future’s sake,” said Kimmerly. “We went from being full bore, doing and planning everything as normal that week, past (March 10) and into (March 11) to being shut down by (March 13). Everything was changing so quickly, the information and the recommendations from state medical and government officials. And we tried to keep up with those recommendations.”
Initially those changes were small, with the MHSAA planning on limiting spectators. It quickly turned into postponing the winter postseason before finally evolving into a complete suspension of high school athletics.
“With everyone talking about social distancing, it didn’t make sense to keep allowing teams to meet and practice if we’re all supposed to be staying away from everyone,” Kimmerly said.
Kimmerly also said the responses from sports entities around the country also played a role the MHSAA’s decision.
“Obviously we didn’t make our decision based on what the NCAA was doing, but when they canceled the NCAA (basketball) tournament and then shut down all their spring sports that resonated pretty loudly,” he said.
Upon seeing the responses from leagues and businesses around the country, Kimmerly is confident the MHSAA made the right call.
“We still believe it was the right thing to do and a lot of what we’ve (feedback-wise) seems to agree with that,” he said. “The encouraging thing that we’ve seen in a lot of those (reaction stories and) reports is people saying ‘This is disappointing and crushing, but it was the right call.’ And that’s encouraging to us for two reasons because it means that people understand that we made these decisions for the safety of everyone and, on a lesser level, it shows just how much high school sports mean to people.”