Royal Oak Tribune

A breakdown of the fall finish, winter start

- By Drew Ellis dellis@medianewsg­ @ellisdrew on Twitter

In a year full of roller-coaster days, Friday was another one for prep athletes and coaches.

The press conference from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was bitterswee­t, as it allowed fall athletes an opportunit­y to finish their seasons while leaving the winter athletes still in a holding pattern.

For the Michigan High School Athletic Associatio­n, Friday was still a small step in the right direction and a sign of things moving toward their goal of three complete seasons during this school year.

MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl covered a variety of topics during a media call on Friday to update everyone on the current state of prep sports following the latest extension of the epidemic order.

Why fall sports can resume

It was just two weeks ago that the MHSAA was discourage­d to be told the fall sports tournament­s wouldn’t be completed in 2020.

Gov. Whitmer expressed a desire to see students back in the classroom before the athletic field and many wondered if football, volleyball and girls swimming & diving would ever be completed.

On Friday, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon announced a pilot testing program that would open the door for those three sports to resume in a somewhat surprising decision.

Uyl didn’t have all the details on just how the testing program will work, but it was something that would be pieced together by the MHSAA and MDHHS in the days to come.

“Part of the testing program that’s required is there will be a rapid test that will get to schools here shortly,” Uyl said. “We’re still working through some of the details on how the exact process will work, but essentiall­y there will be some testing in place.”

In the Dec. 7 press conference from Whitmer and the MDHHS, there seemed to be little considerat­ion for high school sports after Uyl mapped out a plan the MHSAA had felt was safe to complete the fall sports throughout the remainder of the month.

Since then, the MDHHS approached the MHSAA about the testing program. Things moved quickly,

as the ability to test rapidly opened up with the beginning of vaccinatio­ns within the state and country.

“Many of these rapid-testing resources are being reallocate­d to schools as of the new year, because for the last few months those had all been going to nursing homes of which those vaccinatio­ns, as it was shared with us, are actively going on,” Uyl said.

With expectatio­ns for inperson education to return at the high school level in January, the MDHHS felt working with the MHSAA over this limited sample size would be a great way to start.

“The (MDHHS) wanted to partner with an entity that would have a limited number of schools, a limited number of student athletes, and certainly with the remaining fall sports that were left, this seemed to make an awful lot of sense,” Uyl said.

All of the testing will come at no charge to the athletes or the schools. It will be covered by the MDHHS.

“Where we were at during October and November, is you looked at the cost and the mechanics of testing, and at that time nobody was making rapid testing available certainly at a price point that could be handled,” Uyl said. “The game- changer was with ( Friday’s) plan from (the MDHHS) about the rapid testing that they would be providing. The game-changer in this whole testing (plan) did come from the leadership at (the MDHHS) and we are grateful for that opportunit­y and suggestion by them.”

Where things stand for tournament­s

As the testing protocols

get worked out, the MHSAA made clear that teams will have to partake in the pilot testing program in order to compete.

Fall teams and athletes still competing can begin practice on Monday, still observing the normal safety practices they have all season.

“All of our safety protocols remain in place. It is the temperatur­e checks, all of the things that we have done when our kids and coaches have been together going back to last June,” Uyl said. “All of the practices that have been required remain in place.”

The 11-player football regional finals will take place on Saturday, Jan. 2. The semifinals will then be held on Saturday, Jan. 9, while the state finals will be concluded on Jan. 15-16. The 8-player semifinals will be held Jan. 2, with the finals being held on Jan. 9.

Teams with the most playoff points will be hosting games up until the state finals. Those schools can opt for a neutral location if they so choose.

For the state finals, locations have yet to be determined. Ford Field remains an option for the 11-player championsh­ips, but has not been finalized as of yet.

The volleyball quarterfin­als will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 5. The semifinals and finals will then take place from Jan. 7-9 at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

For girls swimming & diving, the state finals will be held at one of three locations based on division. The diving finals will take place Jan. 15, while the swimming finals will be held Jan. 16.

All of these sporting events will be held without spectators due to the current restrictio­ns put on by the epidemic order limiting gatherings both indoor and outdoor.

Due to spectators not being allowed, the MHSAA is putting extra emphasis on making sure that all of the sporting events will be made available through streaming services.

The NFHS Network has been working with the MHSAA throughout the season, and FOX Sports Detroit will air the 11-player football championsh­ips.

What’s next for winter and spring

While the fall sports will see a conclusion, winter sports continue to wonder when they will see a beginning.

Friday’s order extension prevents any sort of winter sports activity until at least Jan. 16. The only exception to that is alpine skiing, which takes place outdoors and is non-contact.

“As it relates to winter sports, we’re waiting for the new order to expire on Jan. 15. It’s our hope and plan that practices can begin soon after along with winter competitio­n,” Uyl said.

The MHSAA had hoped winter sports would be able to begin practice throughout December and start competitio­ns in January in order to keep a relatively similar timeline to winter seasons in other school years.

The MHSAA Representa­tive Council will be coming together on Tuesday to map out plans for the winter season moving forward.

“Our plan for winter sports continues to be completing all of our winter tournament­s by the end of March,” Uyl said.

With practices not starting until at least mid-January, that leaves a limited window for competitio­ns. Uyl expects to see a shortened timeline for practices in order to get the seasons moving as quickly and safely as possible.

“I do think this year that’s going to be a fairly short window,” Uyl said of practice time for winter teams before beginning competitio­n. “We are going to depend on local schools to use some good judgment and common sense as they build their schedules in terms of practice to competitio­n.”

Uyl expressed that the MHSAA may look into altering rules to allow basketball and hockey teams to compete more times throughout a week, or even a day.

The postseason tournament­s could also be more condensed in March, as opposed to being staggered throughout late February to late March as they usually are.

The MHSAA is hoping to keep winter sports from extending until April, which could push spring sports into late June or even July.

“There’s very little support for that,” Uyl said.

Uyl remains confident that winter sports will have a season that concludes with a tournament for each sport, but also will not interfere with the start of spring sports.

“By the nature of where spring break always falls for our schools, if we are able to get started in midJanuary, finish up all of our winter tournament­s by the end of March, I think the overlap with spring and winter sports really isn’t going to be that much different than what it would be in most normal years,” Uyl said.

For spring athletes that didn’t have a season at all in 2020, Uyl wanted to reassure them that they will be competing in 2021.

“Our spring sports will start on time,” he said emphatical­ly. “They will have their schedules as published with all of their tournament­s ending as scheduled in May and June.”

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 ?? KEN SWART — FOR MEDIANEWS GROUP ?? The 11-player and 8-player football playoffs will resume competitio­n on Saturday, Jan. 2.
KEN SWART — FOR MEDIANEWS GROUP The 11-player and 8-player football playoffs will resume competitio­n on Saturday, Jan. 2.

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