NOVAK: State guidelines answer how, but not when sports will restart

I was a bit disappointed in its content after waiting for an email from the Michigan High School Athletic Association with its guidelines for re-starting sports.

What MHSAA executive director Mark Uly had to say was not the problem. The guidelines released were pretty much in line with an email I had already read from the National Federation of High School Associations. It was what he did not say that was disappointing.

I guess I was hoping that Uly would give some hope of when Michigan can expect to re-start high school sports. The realist in me knows he cannot do that because it is out of his control.

Still, any morsel would have been great. Maybe something like we are still on target to begin fall sports as scheduled in early August. That would at least give us all something to aim at. A measure of hope that has been dwindling for me each week as I write about another sporting event being canceled or postponed.

I have to tell you, I am starting to get depressed. It was especially tough this week when both Edwardsburg and Dowagiac canceled their youth sports seasons. I know there are still some leagues out there such as Howard Township Baseball, Brandywine Cal Ripken Baseball and the Greater Niles Baseball at Thomas Stadium that have not contacted me with their decisions.

Fortunately, I have been distracted by jumping over to the news side of our operation to help cover Cassopolis and Edwardsburg. It is something I have done before. I know the people in those communities, so getting up to speed with what is going on should not take very long.

As we hit June, I begin building hope now that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put an end to the “Safer at Home” order. The plan should not be of any surprise to those who take the time to read it. This week, it will be interesting to see who our local schools plan to put some of the key guidelines in place. Such as:

  • Pre-workout/contest screening of athletes and coaches for sickness
  • Limitations of the number of participants who may be involved in a gathering
  • Proper cleaning for facilities
  • Use of equipment during activity

The guidelines also talk about keeping athletes hydrated, which is already a top concern, especially during the hot days of early August and sometimes running into mid-September. The plan also divides the sports into three categories — low/medium/high. Obviously, contact sports will be in the high-risk category, while sports that already have social distancing build into them like golf and, in some ways, volleyball, should fall into the low or medium categories.

Whether or not masks will have to be worn during competition has yet to be determined. According to the guidelines, state, local and school district guidelines on cloth face coverings are supposed to be followed. The coverings do not need to be “medical grade” quality. Anyone who feels the need to wear them, even if guidelines do not say they have to, will be allowed. They may also be worn while sitting on the bench.

This all sounds good in theory, but I have to wonder how athletes will be able to compete at any level, let alone a high level, with something such as a cloth mask restricting their breathing. I also know there are people out there like me that do not like having their face covered by anything. Are those kids going to have to sit on the sidelines and watch while others who are not affected by that play the game?

Social distancing will have to be extended to those attending sporting events. The guidelines suggest a three-tier system — Tier 1 (essentials) athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical state and security; Tier 2 (preferred) media; Tier 3 (non-essential) spectators, vendors. Only tier 1 and tier 2 personnel will be allowed to attend sporting events until state and local officials allow mass gatherings. I am not sure what that means right now, as many states are well under 100 people.

There are still so many questions yet to be answered. Hopefully, as June turns into July, we will get more answers. There will be fewer restrictions, and when August arrives, teams can begin preparation for the fall sports seasons. We need sports back. Let us hope we get our wish.

 

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at scott.novak@leaderpub.com.

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