ADs, coaches react to MHSAA's phase-in plan



Fall sports practices are set to start next week with football slated for Aug. 10 and other sports such as volleyball and cross country for Aug. 12.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association Representative Council at its meeting on July 29, adopted a plan to phase in competition for fall sports in hopes of continuing to deter the spread of COVID-19.

The Council affirmed lower-risk sports - cross country, Lower Peninsula girls golf, Lower Peninsula boys tennis and Upper Peninsula girls tennis, and Lower Peninsula girls swimming and diving - can start practice on Aug. 12 and begin competition on their traditional start dates of Aug. 19 and 21.

But those considered as moderate and high-risk sports - football, girls volleyball and boys soccer - can begin practice but not competition.

Decisions about competition timelines for these three sports will be made by Aug. 20, the MHSAA said.

Practice for boys soccer and girls volleyball may begin on Aug. 12 the MSAA said. Football will delay the start of practice with full player pads and equipment until Monday, Aug. 17. The week of Aug. 10 may include football practice sessions consisting of conditioning, physical training and skill work with no other player equipment except helmets.

It's considered a week of acclimatization, similar to allowed summer football activities that have been ongoing for schools since June.

The Council also voted to cancel scrimmages in all fall sports for this school year and approved limitations on numbers of teams that may compete together at regular-season tournaments, invitationals and other multi-team events.

"The Council believed eliminating scrimmages emphasized the importance of keeping teams from mixing before the first date of competition, and the regular-season limitations may lessen opportunities for viral spread while still allowing meets to be conducted," the MHSAA said in its announcement.

"As this remains a fluid situation," the announcement said, "the MHSAA would release updated timelines for competition for football, girls volleyball and boys soccer by Aug. 20 dependent on how the spread of the virus is trending statewide. Plans remain reliant on sustained metrics measuring virus spread and/or progression by schools and regions across the state according to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's MI Safe Start Plan." Currently two regions are in Phase 5, including the Upper Peninsula, which allow for limited indoor activity, while the rest are in Phase 4 and unable to host indoor training, practice or competition."

The MHSAA pointed out the start of volleyball practices are in part contingent on the reopening of indoor facilities. Those sports can begin their practices outdoors if not allowed to be indoors by Aug. 12.

"I think there are a lot of unanswered questions and many uncertainties," Reed City athletic director Kris Griffin said. " I am meeting with all of my fall coaches and are going over the re-opening guidelines with their particular sport. Football is basically continuing with what they have been doing for next week, soccer is very similar and cross country as well. Volleyball is very much in question because as of right now, we are not able to get into the gym.

"We are hoping for additional clarification this week on the opening of gyms and number of spectators allowed at our events, if we can have competitions. The MHSAA has stated that they expect additional information to come out of the governor's office soon."

"We are preparing to start on Aug. 10 and Aug. 12," Pine River athletic director Shawn Ruppert said. "Volleyball is a big question as far as what it will look like if we are still in Phase 4. The outdoor sports are more of a known quantity, at least to start practices. We want to be prepared to follow all of the guidelines and still get kids get back into a routine as much as possible. It feels like years since we have had high school athletics and everyone is ready to get back to it. We are trying to be optimistic about games but realize that changes may still be coming.

"I feel like the MHSAA is in a holding pattern until they see what school, college sports, and even pro sports are going to look like. Once one domino falls, I think many more will."

Reed City football coach Scott Shankel expressed concern over the elimination of the scrimmages.

"It's very difficult to do a lot of things when you can't hand the ball off or use too much equipment," Shankel said. "It's pleasing to hear that (the MHSAA) is trying to get us in full pads by the seventeenth and that we can move forward on the tenth."

The Coyotes are slated to begin their season with a road contest against Cadillac.

"This is a very difficult time to plan," Griffin said. "Our league AD's will be having a meeting on Thursday to discuss some of these changes and what it might mean for some of our league events as well."