Sidelined? 3 high school sports await Whitmer's final ruling

Game on: Should Michigan high schools add esports?
Posted at 8:38 AM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-01 08:38:55-04

(AP) — The leader of the Michigan High School Athletic Association said Monday the decision rests with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on whether there are soccer games, volleyball matches, and swimming and diving meets this fall.

Mark Uyl said while the governor’s school reopening road map, issued June 30, allows for competition during the coronavirus pandemic, her broader “safe start” order — amended July 29 — does not, unless participants stay 6 feet (1.83 meters) apart. The group later received guidance from Whitmer’s office that sports deemed to be low-risk — golf, tennis and cross country — were OK to proceed despite the athletes not being able to always keep distance.

The organization on Aug. 14 postponed football, which is considered high-risk, until the spring. Soccer, volleyball, and swimming and diving are permitted in much of northern Michigan but not the rest of the state under interpretations of Executive Order 160 given to the MHSAA by the governor’s staff, Uyl said.

“We’ve heard for two weeks that more guidance is coming. Everybody is kind of on pins and needles about what’s going to happen,” he told The Associated Press. He said given the number of orders Whitmer has issued to control COVID-19, “you’re naturally going to have some contradictions. The frustrating part for us is you go back to Aug. 6, we’ve been asking these questions and been asking them quite aggressively.”

Whitmer spokeswoman Chelsea Lewis confirmed that schools’ return-to-learn plans must comply with Executive Order 160, which allows outdoor fitness classes, athletic practices, training sessions and games if coaches, spectators and participants keep 6 feet of distance at all times.

“With that being said, we’re reviewing sports reopening,” she said.

Uyl said he was hopeful the governor will release guidance this week because after Labor Day, the MHSAA will have to “look seriously” at postponing the fall sports that are in a holding pattern. Such delays would interfere with the winter and spring athletic seasons, Uyl said.

Volleyball and swimming and diving are off limits in southern Michigan because indoor gyms and pools remain closed there. It is less clear why soccer, which requires close contact, is OK in northern counties but not elsewhere.

“It’s one of the conflicts that we noted but moved forward based (on) the answer we were given,” Uyl said.

He expressed frustration that private sports leagues not affiliated with schools, like travel baseball, proceeded with summer tournaments as if the virus outbreak and Whitmer’s orders “never happened.” Now 7-on-7 football is being offered by for-profit operations, he said.

“The non-school world, there’s just no accountability to anybody,” Uyl said.

He rejected people’s suggestion that the MHSAA ignore the governor, calling it “ridiculous.” The association’s membership includes more than 1,500 public and private high schools, junior highs and middle schools.

“Absolutely not. We have to follow all current laws, which include all of the executive orders. If we do something that’s in conflict, it’s hard for us as an organization to have credibility,” Uyl said.

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