Youth sports coaches, officials weigh options after Whitmer calls for pause

With the shutdown being voluntary, some school officials need to assess their situation…

Youth sports coaches, officials weigh options after Whitmer calls for pause 1

After complying with protocols to ensure the fulfillment of a safe spring sports season, local youth coaches and officials reacted to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement on Friday morning that did not include an order or mandate to suspend activity for the upcoming weeks.

The governor urged youth and high school sports leagues to take a two-week pause from practices and games, with the hope of fighting a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Whitmer also asked schools to shut down in-person learning and restaurants to halt indoor dining.

The announcement came just seven days after an executive order went into effect that required all non-school youth athletes age 13-19 to test weekly in order to participate. That order was slated from April 2-17. 

High school girls basketball teams were competing for state championships as Whitmer made her announcement Friday. The Michigan High School Athletic Association boys basketball finals are scheduled to play out Saturday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

MHSAA director of communications Geoff Kimmerly said the basketball tournament would continue and that schools would make determinations on spring sports in the coming weeks.

The Catholic High School League is one MHSAA-affiliated organization that’s announced a decision to proceed with its spring season.

“After careful consideration, the CHSL has decided to continue to trust the MHSAA and NFHS safety protocols that are in place for athletics and will continue to conduct weekly testing for our high school athletes,” league director Vic Michaels said. 

With the shutdown being voluntary, more study may be necessary, Ypsilanti Lincoln athletic director Chris Westfall said.

“If the superintendent feels we’re in a safe place and we’ve been doing the right things and we choose to continue, then we’re fine acting independently,” he said.

Some coaching outdoor sports question the shutdown. Utica baseball coach and teacher Mark Moehlig said that the baseball diamond should be the least of concerns for mitigating the spread.

“In baseball, we’re not by each other. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Moehlig said. “If anything, the time off from sports, these kids are gonna go hang out with friends, they’re going to go to parties.”

Moehlig, who also coaches football at Warren Mott, said that the decision to nix sports would likely be a result of schools finding it hard to explain why in-person learning is shut down if sports are not.

“It’s getting to a point that so many kids are getting sent home because of contract tracing, that there’s then 50 percent of kids in school…so they shut the school down,” Moehlig said. “Then sports gets, ‘Oh, shut the sports down.’

“Why’d you shut us down? We’re outside playing right field and center field, and in the classroom, everybody’s two feet away from each other.”

While school-affiliated sports leagues have been dealing with testing and contact tracing since fall, Whitmer’s testing order that went into effect last Friday raised a new challenge for club and recreational youth sports.

With little time to spare until their respective spring sports started, organizers and officials worked to ensure they could follow the testing requirements that would allow the kids to play.

This included working directly with the state to gain certification for administering and reporting tests, ordering testing kits, and organizing with their respective leagues, clubs and parents to ensure that all kids had the chance to participate in compliance with the order.

Michigan State Youth Soccer Association vice president Anthony Spica said that while spring break brought about a “light week” of testing, he spoke with one club official who administered approximately 70 tests without a single positive result.

After taking these steps, Spica said that he believes the MSYSA and its clubs will be able to continue their seasons safely, despite the concerns outlined in Whitmer’s request.

“We’re outdoors, we’ve got testing in place, we’ve got mask requirements in place,” Spica said. “Our coaches in our clubs have all been trained on protocols in regards to if a player’s not feeling well.

“We feel really comfortable.”

South Oakland County Soccer, part of MSYSA, plans to continue with its season this weekend. 

Meanwhile, Birmingham city officials announced on social media that they will pause use of all recreational facilities for organized youth sports from now through April 25.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

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