GLADWIN – Normal, what is it? Will it ever return? These are questions I ask myself on almost a daily basis. For me normal this time of year would be watching a baseball or softball game and trying to capture the perfect picture. A close play at first or the moment the bat makes contact with the ball. It would also be wandering around a track deciding what event to watch next. Or maybe it would be the look on a soccer player’s face the moment she knows the goaltender can’t get to the ball. Or it could be zooming around the course on a golf cart trying to see each golfer play at least one hole. Normal for me is a high school sporting event.
I think that it is safe to assume that high school sports will resume sometime during the next school year. It is also safe to assume that all sporting events will look different at least early on. In an attempt to provide the most accurate information available I contacted Dr. John Hawkins D.O. a Sports Medicine Physician. Dr. Hawkins is a 2005 graduate of Gladwin High School who attended Alma College and the Michigan State University School of Osteopathic Medicine. He currently practices in Muskegon with the Orthopedic Associates of Muskegon. He will also serve as the team doctor for the Muskegon Reeths-Puffer High School football team.
Before we can even think about fall sports we have to be sure that schools are able to open safely. Without school there will be no sports. When asked about what it would take for school to open on time in the fall Hawkins said, “it will be tough to make that call for another two to three months. The situation is dynamic and is always changing.” The safety of the kids is also not the only consideration.
The argument is sure to be made that children are not affected by COVID-19. “That is not true,” according to Hawkins. “The incidence of big problems is much lower, but there are cases in which kids have become very ill.” He explained that even if they are asymptomatic they could still carry the disease. The biggest fear is that they will infect their parents and grandparents. Many of who will fall in the demographic that is likely to suffer more serious complications.
He also mentioned that we are unlikely to have a vaccine by fall, but it is possible that we will be over the “hump” by August or September. If enough herd immunity has built up the spread of the virus can be suppressed. “Preliminary RNA analysis indicates that it is a fairly slowly mutating virus.” This is good for several reasons- it makes it more likely that an effective vaccine can be developed and once somebody has had the virus they should have immunity to it.
Once we are back at school Hawkins thinks it is reasonable for sports to restart. “If kids are back in school it is not going to increase that rate of disease transmission to have them back at sports.” The issue will be whether spectators will be allowed. “The schools may need to follow the lead of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or we may get more general guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),” he said. “Will we be ready for practices to begin in August? I don’t know, I think it might be delayed.”
On May 8 the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) released some adjustments to the handbook regulations in response the pandemic. They have waived the pre-participation physical requirements for athletes who received one during the 2019-20 school year. They also authorized athletic directors to request waivers that would allow schools to wear their competition uniforms during events that are school sponsored and designed to recognize graduating seniors.
MHSAA spokesman Geoff Kimmerly was quoted by Hugh Bernreuter of MLive as saying, “once the stay-at-home order is lifted, some schools may choose to compete, even if it’s only a doubleheader against a neighboring school to give players, especially seniors a chance to play, even if it is only one more game.” Schools were also given permission to waive the annually required weeklong period of no summer activity. The MHSAA seems to be indicating that they expect the Stay at Home, Stay Safe order to be lifted and sports to return in the fall.
Professional leagues are likely to restart without fans this summer. With virtually every game televised it doesn’t really matter. We will get our sports fix. High school athletics is another story. They belong to the community. We are willing to travel all over the state to see our kids play. Most of us will have a soft spot in our hearts for our alma mater. Without fans there are no “Friday Night Lights.” Until we can have fans in the stands we are not truly back to normal.