Royal Oak Tribune

Get athletes off roller coaster

- By Drew Ellis dellis@medianewsg­ Drew Ellis

I’ve felt a lot of things over the last 12 months.

I’ve felt fear, anxiousnes­s, sadness, empathy and hope.

On Tuesday, I felt anger.

Throughout this whole COVID-19 pandemic, my feelings have always been on the side of health and safety. This is a serious virus that can have serious consequenc­es.

I have been dealing with them first-hand for most of the year.

However, on Tuesday, I felt angry because high school athletes across the state were unnecessar­ily hurt.

I was as shocked as anyone when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon announced fall sports postseason would resume under a new pilot testing program.

Despite my shock, I was happy for the athletes that would get a chance to finish out their postseason tournament­s and get some closure to their season.

It had to be exciting for those teams to come together again on Monday after five weeks apart.

It also had to be excruciati­ng on Tuesday to be told, once again, that their seasons were on pause. Why this time?

Because of a lack of clarity between the MDHHS and the Michigan High School Athletic Associatio­n.

This could have been easily avoided, but someone dropped the ball.

It’s possible that the MHSAA could have prematurel­y jumped the gun and scheduled out the fall tournament­s without knowing the full details of the testing program.

However, Mark Uyl has been up front throughout this whole process and has followed the guidance of the MDHHS and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. I don’t question his desire to get these sports concluded.

On Tuesday Uyl sent a letter to participat­ing schools indicating the MDHHS hadn’t fully provided details that were needed until that day.

I had coaches this past weekend reaching out to me personally for answers about the testing program, as if I somehow would know before they would.

Since Friday’s announceme­nt media sites across the state have been all talking about fall athletes returning to practice on Monday. It’s hard to imagine the MDHHS wasn’t aware of the MHSAA’s schedule. If more time was needed, it could have been addressed prior to the kids getting sent back to practice.

Instead, the athletes got their hopes up once again, only to be hurt once again.

Families altered holiday plans to make sure their kids were available for practices.

The past few months have felt like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

While I side with the health and safety of individual­s during this pandemic, I also am concerned for the mental health of these teenagers. Tuesday was unacceptab­le.

Now, the MHSAA is back in rescheduli­ng mode for fall tournament­s.

I commend the MHSAA and Mark Uyl for their determinat­ion to get in three seasons with champions crowned in each sport.

However, perhaps this is a battle that is doing more harm than good. Maybe it is time to put the fall season in the rearview mirror.

I know not having a finish to football, volleyball and girls swimming & diving provides its own mental anguish, but not as much as being built up to be torn down again.

As the focus remains on finishing the fall, the winter season continues to sit idle.

Administra­tors I have spoken to are concerned that the testing program is too challengin­g for high school athletes to actually work. These aren’t profession­als or college athletes that have a wide safety net protecting them at all times.

Throughout the fall, I heard from coaches that were grateful to have had the length of a season they did.

Football teams were given the ability to play at least seven games if healthy. That is 77 percent of a normal football season.

As the fall pushes deeper into 2021, the MHSAA remains committed to wrap up winter sports by the end of March.

At best, winter sports outside of skiing won’t be able to begin practice until mid-January. That ideally gives them about a month of competitio­n before tournament­s would begin.

While the MHSAA may relax rules to allow for more games to be played in a week, winter sports teams aren’t likely to see 77 percent of a season under the current format.

With so much focus remaining on finishing three fall tournament­s, perhaps that energy is best served to focus on the winter and spring and give those athletes as much of a season as possible.

If having postseason tournament­s remain a must, then perhaps leave the option for teams that get eliminated to continue to play games against eliminated teams until the season runs out.

For a basketball team that would be eliminated in a district opener, they may not even get 50 percent of a normal season.

The same can be said for the spring. It’s hard to imagine the current timeline not pushing into their season as well.

For not having any season whatsoever in 2020, those spring athletes should be a top priority. Get them on the field. The motto all year has been, “Let Them Play.”

The priority should be about that, playing. Not championsh­ips at all cost.

This mental roller coaster is costing the kids.

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 ?? MEDIANEWS GROUP FILE PHOTO ?? Clarkston is one of 32 volleyball teams around the state that returned to practice on Monday, only to have their season put on pause again.
MEDIANEWS GROUP FILE PHOTO Clarkston is one of 32 volleyball teams around the state that returned to practice on Monday, only to have their season put on pause again.
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