Let them Play

Beaverton Superintendent, Joseph Passalacqua and senior, Cam Mishler at Saturday’s ‘Let them Play’ rally.

BEAVERTON – It was almost like they were trying to sneak one past us. On the day that Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) made the announcement that bars and restaurants could reopen those same entities continued the pause on winter contact sports without actually announcing it. Word slowly leaked out on Friday with no official announcement to the media until long after the fact. It took until Friday afternoon for the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) to issue a statement.

MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said at the time, “We found out about this decision at 9:30 a.m. like everyone else, and we will address it as quickly as possible after taking the weekend to collect more information.” We did not anticipate this delay in winter contact practices and competition, and today’s announcement has created many new questions.”

On January 27 he issued another statement in which he called into question the decision by the MDHHS. “Each week, we see hundreds of examples of children and families competing in non-school competition, both in-state and out-of-state. This not only is in violation of current MDHHS orders, but sending all of these families into different states will only become an impediment to getting students back in school full time.”

He also once again provided the data collected by the pilot-testing program that allowed fall sports to come to a conclusion. Results of that program were overwhelmingly positive. A total of 5,376 individuals (athletes, coaches, team personnel, cheerleaders, etc.) were tested, and 57, or 1 percent, tested positive at some point in the pilot. Nearly 30,000 rapid antigen tests were administered, and 99.8 percent were negative. (All four data points were through Jan. 19 and provided to the MHSAA by the MDHHS.)

The numbers look pretty good to the untrained eye, 99.8 percent of the tests came back negative. Is it possible to put any other cohort group together in Michigan and get such good results? It doesn’t seem likely, so why are contact sports still on pause? What data is the MDHHS looking for?

That’s a question being asked by many people around the state including the growing Let Them Play Michigan movement. On Saturday they held a rally at the state capitol to make their voice heard. Locally, Beaverton Schools Superintendent Joseph Passalacqua is becoming one of the loudest of those voices. I had the opportunity to talk to him about why he is so passionate about getting kids back on the courts, matts and ice.

“Last Friday’s pause was without data to support it, and was something I struggled with,” he said. “When I met with some athletes on Saturday morning I knew that I had to do something.” He talked about the devastation in there tone of voice and how crushed they were by the continuation. “It was heartbreaking for me to see these kids get put back on pause again it was at that point that I decided I have to do something.”

“We know the benefits of physical activity. We also know that if we can’t get back to some sense of normalcy soon kids health will suffer. It may not be apparent right away, but it will happen,” he continued. ‘”Watching how suicide rates are climbing I knew I had to act.” While there has been some negative backlash surrounding his stand he says he has the support of his community and board of education.

Passalacqua contacted a local television station and arranged a series of interviews to publicize the situation. He along with athletic director Jennifer Johnston, basketball coach Shad Woodruff, teacher Kelly Fisher and athletes Jake Fisher, Mady Pahl and Trent Reed all agreed to be interviewed by the station. All talked about the effects of the continued pause and what it is doing students.

He also made contact with Jayme McElvany the parent leader of Let Them Play and made arrangements to speak at the rally. He took Beaverton athlete Cam Mishler and was scheduled to meet state champion wrestler Brendan Ferretti from Macomb Dakota. Both were also supposed to speak on Saturday. The rally drew hundreds from around the state and certainly got the attention of the Governor and Health Department, but will that mean anything going forward? We don’t have a lot of time to waste if we hope to get in a full winter and spring season.

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