TRAVERSE CITY — At this rate, Stephen Draper doesn’t know when he’ll coach a basketball game at Traverse City Central.
The first-year Trojans head coach saw another delay in the winter season start, with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issuing an order Friday morning that doesn’t allow for winter contact sports to resume until Feb. 21.
“We’re trying to focus as much as we can on what we can control,” Draper said. “We can still be in the gym together and build those relationships.”
Draper said he doesn’t plan more than a day or two ahead because the winter sports landscape has been so unpredictable this season. The Trojans also have 10 of 15 players on varsity who just finished playing football a week ago.
“I sympathize for everybody involved with this,” Draper said. “There’s a lot of parties trying to do what’s best for everybody involved, and there’s a lot of white noise in the middle.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the MDHHS announced winter contact sports — which include girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, hockey and wrestling — must remain non-contact through Feb. 21. The previous emergency order would’ve allowed those sports to begin contact activities Feb. 1.
“We found out about this decision at 9:30 a.m. like everyone else, and we will address it as quickly as possible after taking the weekend to collect more information,” MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl said in a statement. “We did not anticipate this delay in winter contact practices and competition, and today’s announcement has created many new questions.
“Obviously, this is disappointing to thousands of athletes who have been training with their teams over the last week and watching teams in other states around Michigan play for the last two months.”
Downhill skiing already started its season, and bowling and boys swimming can begin as well. Bowling can begin competition Jan. 25 and swimming was allowed to start as early as Friday.
The last emergency order said hockey could begin Feb. 1, basketball Feb. 4 and wrestling and competitive cheer Feb. 8.
Detroit Public Schools Community District superintendent Nikolai Vitti was one of many who took to social media Friday after the announcement to encourage the state to allow sports to resume sooner.
Friday’s emergency order also allowed bars and restaurants to open up Feb. 1 at 25% capacity.
“It seems as if student-athletes in MI now need lawyers and lobbyists to play sports that are being played in bordering states with HIGHER infection rates,” Vitti Tweeted. “We value casino, restaurant and bar profits over our youth in MI who play sports? This simply does not make sense.”
MDHHS director Robert Gordon resigned several hours after Friday’s release, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer replaced him with Elizabeth Hertel within 15 minutes of his Tweet publicly announcing his resignation. No reason was given for Gordon stepping down.
Friday’s order did allow large stadiums with capacity over 10,000 to increase spectators from 250 to 500, effective immediately. The MHSAA issued a statement saying no additional tickets would be available for the Friday and Saturday state championship football games at Ford Field in Detroit above the 125 allotted per team because of the lateness of the announcement.
“We have been planning these Finals for weeks to include immediate family, and unfortunately this isn’t a process we can adjust midstream,” Uyl said. “Distributing more tickets would put stress on those plans and Ford Field staffing, and force schools to make more hard decisions on who will be able to attend, but at the last second instead of with prior planning.”
The MHSAA is expected to release another statement following the conclusion of the football state championships this weekend.