TRAVERSE CITY — The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s executive board met again Wednesday and announced the staggered start for fall sports in a press release.
The MHSAA laid out their four-phase plan in a release on July 17 and executed part of that plan Wednesday. They also released sport-specific guidelines for the return to play.
The July 29 release states lower-risk sports — golf, cross country, tennis, swimming and diving — are able to move ahead as scheduled, with practice starting on Aug. 12 and competition on Aug. 19.
Higher-risk sports are not afforded the same luxury. Boys soccer and girls volleyball may begin full practice on Aug. 12 but all competition has been suspended until at least Aug. 20.
Football, which falls into the high-risk category, has its own set of rules. Football teams may continue workouts and conditioning but cannot start practice with full pads until Aug. 17.
The MHSAA said it will make another decision about the resumption of high-risk sports competition on Aug. 20. The executive board also plans to announce a plan for spectators, which will undoubtedly be limited, before competition begins.
Kingsley athletic director Mitch Miggenburg has already had a meeting with his Northwest Conference counterparts.
“We are trying to work our way through the details because there are a lot of questions,” Miggenburg said. “Personally, I am really excited that we have something in place and a direction to work towards.”
The start of volleyball and swimming and diving are contingent on what phase of the MI Safe Start Plan each school’s region is in.
“The easy way out would be to postpone all activity to next spring, and we are not taking the easy way out. But we will make wise decisions based on medical guidance,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said in the statement. “We will make these difficult decisions quickly and appropriately. If we don’t play this fall, it won’t be because we didn’t make every effort to do so.”
The MHSAA also released sport-specific guidelines for practices and competitions, most heavily influenced by the National Federation of High Schools’ (NFHS) recommendations laid out earlier this week.
Face masks will be required or strongly recommended to be worn by athletes on the sidelines for most sports, football and swimming excluded, and will be required for all coaches, media, spectators and personnel. Face masks will be optional for anyone on the field/court of play.
Among the widespread precautions are 6-foot social distancing rules, limited participants in practices, staggered start times for JV and varsity contests, ongoing sanitizing of equipment used in practice/competition and the cancellation of all fall scrimmages.
While teams will be scrambling to figure out a schedule that works with staggered start times and limited-capacity transport, others will find themselves struggling even to fill their schedules. Volleyball, tennis and cross country tournaments will be limited to only four teams — some volleyball tournaments were comprised of 24 teams in the past and X-C meets saw schools number in the hundreds.
“I think there is going to be a scramble to fulfill the requirements of the schedule,” Leland head volleyball coach Laurie Glass said. “I’ve already had a couple coaches call or text me wanting to know if I wanted to be included in a quad somewhere.”
The volleyball season will look much different no matter which way you cut it. There will be no in-game high-fives or post-point celebrations. Chairs at the benches have been eliminated to force distancing and the pre-game coin toss is now predetermined with the visitor always serving first.
Even with the changes already announced, Glass said the July 29 release still doesn’t give a clear picture of what the season will look like.
Cross-country races will now be limited to 70 people and may have course monitors to help remind athletes of social distancing while competing.
Logistical nightmares may be created for athletic directors when it comes to limited spectators and the recommendation of no in-person ticket sales. The MHSAA and NFHS also recommend that concession stands remain closed during limited capacity.
Transportation guidelines were also outlined and schools are recommended to show up to games only one hour before game time and come dressed and ready to play.
“All of those things are going to be drastically different,” Miggenburg said. “It is going to be a great challenge but hopefully we can make it work so the kids get an opportunity to play.”
While all of these changes are going to affect the way sports look this fall, not many will change the way the games are played. Even if they did, athletes like Traverse City Central senior Ryan Royston wouldn’t seem to mind.
“Football is more than a sport, it’s about becoming men,“ Royston said. “And a lot of the things that man has to deal with in this world is gut punches and unexpected occurrences. This is one big unexpected occurrence and we are just going to keep fighting through it.
“Whatever we have to do to get on the field we will.”