I don’t know about you, but if I could have anything I wanted for Christmas this year it would be the end of the pandemic and the return of sports. As a Michigan State Football season ticket holder I have really missed tailgating and games in Spartan Stadium. My wife and I are MSU grads as are all three of our children. Many miles separate us, but MSU football has always brought us together. It is like having family reunion six or seven times a year in the fall. It is often the only time that we see old college friends.
High school sports have also once again become a big part of my life. I thought those days were over when my kids graduated, but working for the Record & Clarion in retirement has been a joy, covering Gladwin County sports has never felt like work. I missed it last spring and again this fall. While I am in no way trying to compare my disappointment to that of our local athletes, coaches and families I do feel like there has been an empty spot in my life for the last nine months.
So what can we expect in the coming year? Will we be back in the gym soon or is a longer delay on the horizon? We may have some answers this afternoon. The Michigan High School Athletic Associations (MHSAA) Representative Council will meet today to formulate plans for another return to school sports. The councils latest plans were tabled on December 7 when Governor Whitmer extended the COVID -19 restrictions for an additional 12 days. Forcing a delay in the remaining fall tournaments and to the start of the winter seasons.
Volleyball, football and girls swimming and diving remain in limbo. The MHSAA has repeatedly indicated that those tournaments will be completed, but is likely it won’t happen until after the New Year. Many scenarios have been discussed, one that seems to be gaining some traction is to move the three uncompleted tournaments to the gap between the winter and spring seasons. The weather in late March through early April is more conducive to football than baseball or softball. Holding the volleyball finals after March Madness allows the MHSAA to keep their most visible and lucrative tournaments in their normal calendar spots. The fall seasons have already been disrupted completing them after the winter season will minimize the disruption to the other seasons.
MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl shared some of his thoughts last week, after the Governors announcement, on the Huge Show a radio program that is broadcast statewide. He came directly to the point early in the discussion when he said, “To say that we were disappointed would be an understatement. We put together an incredibly well thought out plan citing all of our evidence and data that was collected from the first day of practice in August through Nov. 15. “
He said that the plan provided a “reasonable” path for completing the three ongoing fall tournaments safely in the month of December and that they had productive conversations with the state decision makers leading up to the announcement. “A few minutes before the governors announcement we received a courtesy call informing us of the extension,” he said. “I am all about following the science, data and the metrics, but we were told in the call that the epidemiology would not allow sports to resume. We asked for the specifics of that epidemiology and we are still waiting for it.”
Going back to June the MHSAA’s plan has always been to complete all three seasons. That has not changed according to Uyl. “We still have time, but we also had a good safe plan to finish in December. I am very disappointed that we were not given the opportunity.” The MHSAA data seems to support his premise that sports have not been major spreaders of the virus.
The data for football shows that over the nine-week run of the season to date over 95 percent of the scheduled games were played. The data was similar for volleyball. During the worse week of the season 94 percent of the games were played. For all of the other fall sports, the lowest participation week saw 97 percent of the contests take place.
Uyl continues to make the case that kids are safer in school related sports than they are with outside organizations. He believes that meeting with the same group of people, teammates and coaches, and wearing masks would have allowed for the seasons to be completed safely. “We were going to continue playing with masks and eliminate spectators. They would have been able to finish their season, and get closure while still following the science and data.”
“If there is science and data that shows we shouldn’t be playing and you provide it to me and explain it to me I’ll become your biggest supporter,” continued Uyl. “I am a geek, a numbers guy everything we have tried to do is based on our metrics going back to August. The data from across the country has been consistent. Even contact sports like football and soccer have not been super spreader events.” Uyl has also been consistent in his support for the restart of sports.
Thirty-two volleyball teams, including Beaverton are still alive. The individual qualifiers for the state meet in girls swimming and 72-football team are also anxiously awaiting some good news. So is this sports reporter. I just have to believe that 2021 is going to be a better year and that I am going to get my Christmas wish.