TRAVERSE CITY — Casey Donahue had a roller-coaster day Tuesday.
The Traverse City St. Francis center and linebacker earned Associated Press first-team all-state honors in Division 7-8 when the team was unveiled in the late afternoon.
Then came the bad news.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday at 5:47 p.m. that practices for unfinished fall seasons must halt immediately after they’d just started back up Monday.
Another day, another delay.
“We were all pretty excited, getting back to things,” Donahue said. “It’s just another obstacle on the way to a championship.”
A Zoom meeting Tuesday with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and MHSAA attended by about 280 — largely athletic directors from the approximately 200 schools with either a football or volleyball team left in the paused fall postseason — didn’t go as expected for the MHSAA or ADs.
The result became a likely one-week delay in resumption of the fall postseasons and even practices being put on hold for a week as the MDHHS and MHSAA try to get on the same page about what needs to be done to safely play the games and help slow the spread of COVID-19. The delay likely pushes games back a week, although new dates have not been set.
Football was scheduled to resume play Jan. 2 and volleyball Jan. 5. Both resumed practice Monday, with some teams only getting in one practice and others going twice before the new order.
“We still have a good problem,” Suttons Bay athletic director Doug Periard said. “The problem is figuring out how to finish the season. ... But in the moment at the meeting, it was like, ‘Oh, we are not on the same page at all.’”
The issue arose from the MDHHS changing some requirements on schools to be able to complete the fall seasons as part of a pilot testing program that could then lead to winter and spring sports being able to play without masks.
The program, announced last week to allow football, volleyball and swimming to conclude their respective seasons, would have schools give rapid-result antigen tests to athletes and coaches multiple times a week in order for sports to proceed.
Cadillac athletic director Fred Bryant, who oversees the only athletic department in northwest Lower Michigan with teams remaining in both football and volleyball, said the MDHHS originally didn’t ask for athletes’ names and only wanted to know how many were on each team. Tests were to be delivered Wednesday with a short online training because those administering them don’t need to be a trained medical professional.
Now, however, MDHHS wants the name of every athlete, rosters sent in and a consent form for each person being tested.
Bryant said athletic directors asked for the consent form during the Zoom meeting in order to get going on that data collection, but didn’t get an answer.
“(It’s) just like a Canadian nickel — change nobody wants,” Bryant said.
Mesick athletic director Kyle Duby said the MDHHS also said missed tests would be interpreted as a failure to participate and would make the athlete ineligible to play. Duby said a scenario was raised in which a student-athlete misses a testing date because of seeing family for the holidays, and ADs were told that also would be seen as a failed test.
“It was pretty mind-blowing that was their stance,” Duby said.
The meeting started at 2 p.m., ended around 3 p.m. and the MHSAA sent out a press release announcing the delay at 5:47 p.m.
MHSAA assistant director Cody Inglis said the MHSAA’s Representative Council will hold a meeting Wednesday morning to work out more details.
“Based upon new testing protocols that MDHHS provided today, we are delaying fall sport practices to ensure that we can return safely to practice and competition with complete information for the remaining schools and teams involved in the MHSAA tournament being provided in the upcoming days,” Inglis said.
“I appreciate everything the MHSAA is doing to get the kids a conclusion to the fall season,” said Duby, whose Bulldogs volleyball team remains in the Division 4 quarterfinals that were scheduled for Jan. 5, but will likely be pushed back to Jan. 12. “It can’t be easy to deal with all these regulations.”
The MHSAA release said fall teams in the pilot program expect to receive rapid-result antigen tests and more instruction by Dec. 29. The MDHHS on Dec. 28-29 will conduct webinars to train school personnel involved in the testing process. Once the first tests get administered Dec. 30, full team practices can commence.