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Michigan suspends, not cancels, HS sports tournaments

A football running back is swarmed by a bunch of defenders.
Tyler Scott
Manchester then-senior running back Collin McCaffrey is tackled by a gang of Grass Lake warriors in a first-round game of the 2019 Michigan High School football playoffs

The hope is, high school athletes will still get a chance to finish their seasons.

The Michigan High School football playoffs, and the ongoing girls volleyball and swimming and diving tournaments have all been suspended, after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced a new pandemic order Sunday night.

Michigan High School Athletics Association Executive Director Mark Uyl struck an optimistic tone when addressing reporters about changes to the 2020 Fall sports season Tuesday. Uyl said the 19-member MHSAA Representative Council will meet Wednesday, with plans to unveil an updated plan and schedule for the conclusion of the Fall sports tournaments after that meeting.

“We will have a plan that completes those tournaments in the calendar year 2020,” Uyl said during a virtual press conference.

Uyl says the 19-member board comprised of Athletic Directors from school districts across the state will also reveal plans for upcoming Winter sports seasons. Uyl said the MHSAA will not restart practice or competition before December 8th, the end date of the pandemic order issued by MDHHS. Whatever plan for a return to practice and competition is unveiled Wednesday could easily be undone by another order that might come from state officials seeking to extend the current three-week pandemic order.

“Hopefully [Michigan’s Coronavirus] numbers get to a point where we can resume practice and competition and get those three full tournaments completed by January the first,” Uyl said. “We are bound by this emergency order of the Department of Health and Human Services… We’ll see where we’re at come December 8th.”

MDHHS spokesperson Bob Wheaton says the department is aware of “numerous” COVID-19 outbreaks specifically linked to sports.

“In their weekly situation reports from last week, local health departments noted five new outbreaks associated with school sports and nine ongoing school sports outbreaks,” Wheaton said in an email. “This is why the new order pauses in-person high school instruction and school athletics so we can slow the spread of the virus and save lives.”

Wheaton said some people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and contagious, and given the high level of community spread currently happening around the state, high school sporting events are “not advisable.”

Uyl said in his press conference that the MHSAA has shown sports can be played “safely”, saying the vast majority of teams have been able to compete in the Fall football playoffs and volleyball tournament. However, some football teams have had to forfeit matches due to COVID-19 outbreaks and quarantines among their students. Uyl repeatedly said the MHSAA will follow the order from the MDHHS.

Back in the Spring of 2020, ongoing Winter high school sports seasons were abruptly cancelled as Michigan faced mounting coronavirus case numbers. Senior high school athletes were forced to give up on their Winter and Spring sports seasons. Despite the wishes of the MHSAA to avoid a similar scenario now, if the current pandemic order is extended, Uyl says it could disrupt the MHSAA’s plans to finish some tournaments, like football.

“I think that playing [football] games outdoors in January and February doesn’t make much sense,” Uyl said. “We really have a challenge here over the next three weeks to do the right things. … and hopefully after three weeks we’ll be able to get kids back to activity, because mentally I think all of us need this right now, more than ever. "

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Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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