MHSAA OKs football while state warns against contact sports

Michigan high schools were granted permission on Thursday to resume football activities as early as next week, but at the same time, parents were advised by the state’s top doctor against allowing their children to participate in contact sports. 

The fall football season was reinstated by the Michigan High School Athletic Association on Thursday after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 176 lifted restrictions. Padded practices in football can begin on Tuesday, with the first games taking place on Sept. 18.

Jermain Crowell

Other fall sports that can begin are volleyball, boys soccer and girls swimming. Boys soccer matches can begin immediately, girls swimming can begin on Monday and volleyball matches can start on Wednesday.

But in a press release announcing the lifting of Whitmer’s order and the reopening of gyms and pools in Michigan, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, warned against athletes playing contact sports.

More: Whitmer: Indoor and outdoor sports allowed; Michigan gyms can reopen

“Individuals can now choose whether or not to play organized sports, and if they do choose to play, this order requires strict safety measures to reduce risk,” Khaldun said.

“However, we know of 30 reported outbreaks involving athletic teams and facilities in August. Based on current data, contact sports create a high risk of COVID-19 transmission and MDHHS strongly recommends against participating in them at this time. We are not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 is still a very real threat to our families.” Belleville football coach Jermain Crowell, whose team is ranked No. 1 in the state by The Detroit News, said he had “mixed emotions” about learning that football was reinstated.

“I don’t know how to feel right now,” Crowell told The News. “You know we were ready to go, and then it was over, and then you try to get used to the new reality that you’re not playing until March. Then, we heard something yesterday there might be something and then there wasn’t, and now it’s like, ‘Is this real this time? I just shut the kids down for two weeks.

“There’s a lot to do. I know all my seniors are all over the place. Games are starting on the 18th. I have to hand out equipment right now — that’s what we’ve got to do — we’ll be ready to play. We have to be ready to play. This is our best team.”

The first games of the six-game regular season will begin with Week 4 schedules on Sept. 18, leading up to the playoffs with all teams participating. Teams will advance through their usual postseason progression with the state finals the weekend of Dec. 4-5.

Championship events in the other fall sports will take place as originally scheduled.

Before Thursday’s announcement, only schools in Regions 6 and 8 (Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula) were permitted to play volleyball, soccer and swimming. Schools in Regions 1-5 and 7, in the southern Lower Peninsula were on hold for competition in those sports.

The other fall sports in Michigan – boys tennis, girls golf and cross country – have been competing without restrictions due to the distancing inherent in those competitions.

“We are thankful for the opportunity for kids to get back on the field in all fall sports, and we appreciate Governor Whitmer providing that opportunity with Executive Order 176,” MHSAA director Mark Uyl said. “We share the Governor’s priorities of putting health and safety first, and the COVID-19 guidance and protocols designed by the MHSAA at her request have led to the safe starts in all sports across the state.”

The decision to play sports will be determined by each individual school district. Schools may elect to stage fall sports competitions in the spring, but the MHSAA will conduct postseason championship events for fall sports only in 2020.

“Thirty-three other states are currently participating in all fall sports, and the MHSAA and its member schools are committed to doing this as safely as possible,” Uyl said. “We are ready to again provide those experiences to students and communities that have hoped for a return of some normalcy. Given the challenges of online education in many school districts across the state, providing sports and a daily routine may be more important than ever in motivating students and providing a safe outlet for physical activity, competition and socialization.”

Spectators are limited to two per participant in all sports.