GRAYLING BOYNE

Grayling junior running back David Millikin (21) fumbles the ball in a Division 6 district final between Grayling and Boyne City at Boyne City High School Saturday Nov. 14.

TRAVERSE CITY — Sunday’s announcement that high school sports’ three-week pause brought back some of the same emotions from March for area athletes.

The 2021 senior class already went through the cancellation of the winter playoffs and the entire spring season. Sunday made many think the same thing could happen with fall sports.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association didn’t leave members in the dark for long and announced a restart schedule for the three remaining postseason tournaments Wednesday.

The recent order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services paused sports from Wednesday until at least Dec. 8 to limit the spread of COVID-19 and the MHSAA hopes to resume immediately following that date.

Practices for all remaining fall sports (football, volleyball, swimming and diving) and winter sports tentatively return Dec. 9, if the MDHHS gives the OK.

“Everybody is trying to stay positive and that news today was a little extra boost that we can get through it,” said Heather Huff, parent and girls basketball coach at Johannesburg-Lewiston. “It’s something to look forward to.”

Volleyball’s postseason is now scheduled to resume on Dec. 15 for quarterfinals and conclude with the semifinals and finals at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek Dec. 17-19.

The MHSAA is also hopeful football can resume on Dec. 15, starting with semifinals for eight-player and quarterfinals for 11-player. The eight-player finals are currently set for Midland Community Stadium on Dec. 21 or 22. The 11-player finals could return to Ford Field on Dec. 28-29.

Huff‘s son Sheldon, recently named the Northern Michigan Football Conference Legacy Division most valuable player, is in the middle of an undefeated season with Joburg and thought Sunday’s news meant certain doom for the season.

Wednesday changed those emotions a bit.

“When we got that news today we went ‘OK here we go, this is going to happen,’” Heather Huff said. “Realistically, it might not happen, but that they are setting dates makes us feel awesome. The fact we have dates is really awesome and something to look forward to.”

For those schools in the thick of a playoff run, the release of the schedule signalled optimism, but those who had already started winter sports practices got their seasons delayed as a result. Practices for boys basketball, wrestling, skiing and bowling had yet to start, but all others had and will be put on hold. The tentative starting date for the winter sports season is Jan. 4, 2021.

“This is the same conversation we had nine months ago,” Traverse City Central athletic director Zac Stevenson said. “We are hopeful that conditions are good for us to return to competition safely for these athletes.

“TCAPS has been really consistent with working close with the health department. It has been a partnership, so we will continue to follow their guidance.”

Coaches and athletes have a little bit of experience with meeting and working out remotely after a long summer of separation. They will need to spend the next three weeks doing the same before they can potentially get back together for a real practice.

The new schedule gives a six-day buffer between practice restart and competition for the fall postseason resumption and a few weeks for winter teams to get acquainted. Huff, who coaches the girls basketball team at Joburg, hopes the lockdown can provide enough time for the numbers to slow down.

“We have a lot of potential on our basketball teams with a strong senior class,” she said. “We have been gearing up for this year for a long time and we’ve been anxious to get in the gym.”

Stevenson said he thinks the MHSAA will continue to provide guidance at the last possible moment in order to stretch the possibilities as far as possible. The MHSAA Representative Council will meet again on Dec. 4 to reassess the decision and announce more guidance based on the trends at the time.

Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeAtnip

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