MHSAA poised to start winter sports as soon as ban lifted

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan High School Athletic Association saying it is prepared to get winter sports going as soon as the state gives the OK.

“Once we do get the go-ahead, the competition can happen very, very quickly — within a few days,” MHSAA director Mark Uyl said during a Friday morning press conference.

He said he understands why the state paused indoor contact sports in November as Michigan was in the midst of a surge, but thinks they can safely resume now.

“Our number of statewide new cases are a third of then, the positive test rate is half. Given those great improvements, what are the metrics being used specifically” to justify the suspension of the winter season, Uyl said he wanted to know.

He said he is frequently communicating with state officials and pitching his case for why winter sports should be allowed to play, specifically noting an overwhelmingly negative rate as students and coaches were tested during the fall sports season.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has banned winter sports through Feb. 21, but a group of coaches, parents and players wants them to get underway sooner than that.

“(Sports have) helped me overcome anxiety,” Nataleigh Badgero, a senior basketball player at Tri-Unity Christian High School, said. “They’ve become an outlet for me.”

Badgero and her mother Shannon plan on attending a “Let Them Play” rally in Lansing Saturday afternoon. 

“We’re standing for these kids to have a voice and be heard,” said Shannon Badgero, also a Tri-Unity Christian girls basketball assistant coach, said. “In my opinion, they are the forgotten population in response to COVID-19.”

While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer indicated to a Detroit TV station this week that there could be forward movement in a matter of weeks or days, a statement sent to News 8 from her office Thursday was noncommittal and did not include a timetable.

Student-athletes, coaches and parents went before a Michigan House committee Thursday to say that they’re afraid they may not have a season at all. They say they are willing to follow safety protocols, including limited fan attendance.

“We feel as if we are being punished for something we hate just as much as everybody else,” Coopersville High School senior basketball player Ethan Cody told the Republican-led House Oversight Committee.

“There is no more stress reliever, there is no more hanging out with your friends without getting yelled at. Instead, now it’s lonely. It’s just you and your thoughts about this sad world,” he continued.

Marcus Cheatham, a health officer at the Mid-Michigan District Health Department, which covers Montcalm County, doesn’t think winter sports should start up. 

“Heavy breathing, close contact in a room for a long time, all of those things (are) just calculated to spread COVID, ” Cheatham said.

Like the governor, Cheatham cited new strains of the coronavirus that are popping up in the U.S. and are more transmissible than the dominant strain.

“We have this more contagious variant coming,” he said. “As local health departments, we know that safety protocols we’ve had in place, masking, social distancing, it’s not going to work like it has in the past.”

He added that local health departments could ultimately have the final say, if the Republican-led Legislature gets its way.

“In the COVID recovery plan, the Legislature wants to restrict the state health department from making decisions about whether high school sports should be opened or closed. They want to give that decision to local health departments,” he said. “I think that is a very bad idea.”

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