Winter contact sports gets green light

DOWAGIAC — The wait is over.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday afternoon that the remaining winter sports — boys and girls basketball, competitive cheer, hockey and wrestling — can begin their 2020-21 seasons next week.

Contact winter sports have been on hold since Michigan’s state decided to have a three-week pause due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and death on Nov. 15. That pause was extended multiple times, leaving in doubt the fall sports season’s conclusion and the beginning of winter sports.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, thanks in part of a pilot rapid testing program set up by the MDHHS, allowed volleyball, football and girls swimming and division to complete their seasons in January.

Whitmer and the MDHSS also allowed boys and girls bowling, along with boys swimming and diving, which are considered non-contact sports, to begin their seasons in mid-January to allow the remaining sports to begin competition on Feb. 4.

Unfortunately, the state once again extended the pause with a deadline of Feb. 21 for restarting contact sports.

On Thursday, Whitmer announced that basketball, wrestling, and competitive cheer could begin competition as soon as Monday.

“Our numbers are now in a place where we can allow our kids to get back in the game with their coaches and teammates,” Whitmer said. “So, after receiving input from doctors, from coaches, from students, from parents, and legislative leaders, today, DHHS is issuing a new epi-order that will allow sports teams to begin in-person practice on Monday, Feb. 8, as long as masks are worn at all times.

“Teams can also compete in-person with masks, if possible. Or where masks are not compatible with the competition, they will be allowed to compete without masks, if certain strict safety protocols are in place, including a testing regimen. So, this is exciting news, and I’m so glad that our kids are going to be able to get back into playing the sports that they love.”

The MHSAA clarified that statement in a conference call with the media. Boys and girls basketball and hockey will be allowed to begin contact practices, as well as start playing games on Monday. Competitive cheer and wrestling may begin contact practice on Monday, but their first competitions may not begin until Feb. 12.

Basketball and hockey must wear masks at all times, including practices, in order to compete. Wrestling and competitive cheer were given different guidelines.

For wrestling, teams will have to take the same rapid tests that were used to complete the fall sports season. Those tests, which will be paid for by the MDHSS, will be taken at some point during the day of competition. Like the fall, a positive test will lead to contract tracing to decide how many players will need to go into quarantine.

According to the MHSAA, all testing will be coordinated between the schools and the MDHHS or their local health departments.

Cheerleaders will be required to wear masks during practice and at competitions, but not when they are performing their routines on mat because they are not coming on contact with opponents. There were also safety concerns that a mask could cause risks during tumbling and flying should it somehow shift.

Further details will be posted in the Testing and Additional Mitigation Measures for Athletic Practice and Play section of MDHHS’s Interim Guidance for Athletics on Sunday, Feb. 7.

Mark Uyl, executive director of the MHSAA, was pleased with Thursday’s announcement.

“Tremendously excited today for the opportunity that our winter kids are going to have as early as next week Monday,” he said. “We absolutely want to recognize the work and support from Gov. Whitmer and her staff and everyone in her office, along with MDHSS Director [Elizabeth] Hertel and her staff and everyone for her office. We are greatly appreciative of them taking the information and receiving the data we’ve communicated over the last week to 10 days.”

As originally planned, the boys and girls basketball tournaments will be contested at the same time with girls games on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while boys games will be Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.

The MHSAA is currently talking with the Breslin Center on Michigan State University’s campus about keeping the state finals there. Uyl said that option should be available. Discussion with other state finals sites are also being held. An announcement on those venues will be made at a later date.

Below is a breakdown for each sport about testing, competition and use of masks.

 

Girls Basketball

Masking/testing: All participants must wear face coverings at all times – during all practices and non-game activities, and during games. A testing requirement may allow participants to remove masks while in active participation on the floor if they test negative that game day; more details will be provided to schools when confirmed.

Competition limit: Teams may play up to three games per week, Monday through Sunday.

  • First contest: Feb. 8
  • Districts: March 22, 24, 26
  • Regionals: March 29, 31
  • Quarterfinals: April 5
  • Semifinals: April 7
  • Finals: April 9

 

Boys Basketball

Masking/testing: All participants must wear face coverings at all times – during all practices and non-game activities, and during games. A testing requirement may allow participants to remove masks while in active participation on the floor if they test negative that game day; more details will be provided to schools when confirmed.

Competition limit: Teams may play up to three games per week, Monday through Sunday.

  • First contest: Feb. 8
  • Districts: March 23, 25, 27
  • Regionals: March 30, April 1
  • Quarterfinals: April 6
  • Semifinals: April 8
  • Finals: April 10

 

Competitive Cheer

Masking/testing: Teams may compete without testing or face coverings, but must wear masks at all times outside of active competition or stunting/tumbling practice.

Competition limit: Teams may participate in 12 days of competition, not counting MHSAA Tournament events.

  • First contest: Feb. 12
  • Districts: March 15-20
  • Regionals: March 22-24
  • Finals: March 26-27

 

Wrestling

Masking/testing: Testing is required for wrestling, but competitors will not be required to wear face coverings.

Competition limit: Teams may compete two days per week, Monday through Sunday, with no more than four teams at a site (with each individual competing in up to three matches per day.)

  • First contest: Feb. 12
  • Districts: March 15-20
  • Regionals: March 22-28
  • Team Finals: March 30
  • Individual Finals: April 2-3

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