Fall football back on after Whitmer OKs sports, says gyms can reopen

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — The Michigan High School Athletic Association says fall football will happen after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on Thursday that organized sports could resume.

The MHSAA Representative Council had postponed the fall season Aug. 14, citing the risk of coronavirus infection, but voted Thursday to allow it to go forward.

The season will restart Tuesday, Sept. 8 and there will be a tournament.

Teams may not practice before Tuesday and may not practice in full pads before Sept. 10. Games can start Sept. 18. The season will start in what would normally be Week 4, so teams will play only six games in the regular season.

Schools won’t have to qualify for the playoffs — everyone who plays will be in. Finals will be Dec. 4 and 5 for 11-player teams and the weekend previous for eight-player.

MSHAA said swimming and girls volleyball would start Sept. 9 in the much of the Lower Peninsula. Those sports were already happening in parts of the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula that are ahead of the rest of the state in terms of reopening phases.

Schools can still postpone fall sports until the spring if they want, but MHSAA said the postseason will only be available to those who play on its timetable.

Whitmer on Thursday allowed athletic competitions to resume in regions where they are restricted. Her order set a spectator limit of two per participant at competitions in much of the state.

Her administration released separate guidance, however, recommending against — but not prohibiting — sports involving more than occasional and fleeting contact: football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, field hockey, boxing and martial arts with opponents.

MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl told News 8 in a Thursday video call that the biggest benefit of resuming the football season was mental health.

“You talk about all the new data that comes out every day in terms of mental health, in the sense and need for normalcy that our kids need right now, we hear that from medical professionals right now on a daily basis,” Uyl said. “So certainly, COVID(-19) is real and something that we have to continue to work and mitigate all of the risk that we can with COVID, but yet you can’t forget about the other parts of somebody’s health and well-being and mental health is becoming, I would argue, as big a factor as any.”

GYMS CAN REOPEN NEXT WEEK

The governor also announced that gyms can reopen after 5 1/2 months of closure and organized sports can resume, lifting some coronavirus restrictions that lasted longer in Michigan than in many other states.

The order, which is effective next Wednesday, allows for reopening fitness centers and indoor pools in remaining regions that hold 93% of the state’s population, subject to safety rules. Masks will be required at all times inside gyms, including during exercise. They opened in less populated northern counties in June, subject to smaller class sizes.

Despite some media reports of movie theaters possibly reopening, the governor decided those will remain closed. Bowling alleys, roller rinks and ice rinks can open but only for the sole purpose of serving as a venue for organized sports.

The governor urged the schools districts and athletic associations to follow the guidelines issued by the state health department, which reported 36 outbreaks involving sports teams and facilities in August.

Early Thursday evening, Whitmer extended the state of emergency for the virus through Oct. 1. It had been scheduled to expire late Friday.

While Republicans in control of the state Legislature have sued the Democratic governor over extending the emergency without them, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled she has the power to do so. The case is being appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

On Thursday, Michigan recorded 10 more deaths linked to coronavirus and confirmed 685 additional cases, the latest data from the state shows.

  

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