A Traverse City Central cheerleader cheers at Thirlby Field in Traverse City during the 2020 Patriot Game.

TRAVERSE CITY — Plenty of things have been missing from competition during the 2020-21 high school sports season and the return to play January 9 brought questions about who will be allowed at the games.

Spectators have already been told they will not be allowed to attend any fall postseason contest in 2021, but that doesn’t apply to each teams’ loudest supporters.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan High School Athletic Association included sideline cheer teams into antigen test pilot program that has allowed teams to get back on the field this weekend. That means schools who reported their cheerleaders as sideline personnel and received tests for them will be allowed to have support from the sidelines.

“Cheer by the MHSAA’s definition and the health department’s definition are participants,” Traverse City Central athletic director Zac Stevenson said. “They are treated the same as the players and coaches who are being tested and all have the same protocols as the rest of fall tournament sports.”

The Trojans are the only area school left in the fall postseason tournaments to field a sideline cheer team during this weekend’s games. Stevenson said they have gone through the same testing protocols as the football players and will be in the bleachers at Thirlby to maintain social distancing.

Other teams that are hosting this weekend, like Cadillac, don’t have a sideline team of their own, but will have to make accommodations for the visitors’ cheerleaders. The Vikings will be clearing a spot on the snow-filled track to give the Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern cheerleaders a safe place to perform during the Division 4 regional final matchup.

The choice not to sponsor sideline cheerleading this year came as a tough decision for several area schools. Grayling, whose cheerleaders come from the Grayling Recreational Authority’s club, decided back in July that cheer was not going to be a part of the 2020-21 program.

Johannesburg-Lewiston tried to field a competitive team, but the exodus of its coach proved impossible during the pandemic, so the Cardinals’ trip to Marquette won’t feel any different than past road games.

While the TC St. Francis Gladiators got a forfeit win for a regional title, they will be playing the next few weeks by ear before any final decisions are made about cheerleaders returning to the sidelines.

“They are an important part of our program, our fall sports teams and our games,” TCSF athletic director Aaron Biggar said. “We’re trying to take our cues from the state and the MHSAA and keep the amount of people to a minimum. Safety of our students is paramount to us and the ability to risk an exposure to a group of people is always very high on our list because we want to keep our schools going and people in schools.”

Biggar said he hopes that more guidance from the state will be released or reduced by the time the Glads play another game on Jan. 16 and it will allow for cheerleaders and possibly the band.

The pilot testing program, which includes the cheerleaders, is in place to try and give winter and springs sports a chance to start and finish their seasons without a hitch. Still, Cadillac athletic director Fred Bryant isn’t sure how sideline cheer for winter sports will work. What Bryant does know is that the Vikings won’t have one either way as both coaches decided it was not viable.

“Both of them had the same point of view when there was no spectators allowed and the numbers of the kids were not very high,” Bryant said. “Both coaches really felt that the numbers for them to run a successful sideline cheer squad weren’t there for us this year.”

The uncertainty of winter sports still lingers and a possibility of a holiday surge worries Biggar that basketball season could be further interrupted — and sideline cheer indoors may become a scarce possibility.

Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeAtnip

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