Fall sports practices begin
Thu, 08/12/2021 - 12:25pm caleb
Grayling High School prepares for season as if masks will be optional as it awaits possible guidance from MHSAA, MDHHS
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Official practices for the 2021 high school fall sports season began this week, and the level of restrictions – if any – for athletes and spectators for this year’s campaign is unclear due to recent changes in CDC guidelines, which in part include recommendations based on level of COVID-19 transmission county by county.
Teams were allowed to begin practicing for the 2021 fall season on Monday, August 9. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced changes to its recommendations on masking on July 27 due to increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the United States from the more contagious delta variant.
“To maximize protection from the delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission,” according to the CDC.
As of late last week, neither the Michigan High School Athletic Association nor the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services had publicly issued any guidelines for fall sports restrictions.
“As of right now the MHSAA has not given us any restrictions as far as spectators having to wear masks or not wearing masks,” said Nate Maury, Grayling High School Athletic Director.
Maury said the Crawford AuSable School District plans to require masks on buses but face coverings will be optional inside of school buildings, as of late last week.
“At the time of this release, there are no COVID-19-related state-ordered restrictions regarding school sports, for either athletes or spectators, from either the MHSAA or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services,” according to an August 9 MHSAA press release. “County health departments and local school districts may institute restrictions for venues in their areas, and teams traveling to those schools and venues must follow local mandates.”
In 2020, the fall sports season featured a variety of restriction levels and changes, including a shortened football season, spectator limits, and masking requirements for some athletes. Maury said the biggest question right now is what kind of COVID-19 testing program – if any – will be in effect for the 2021 fall campaign as CDC recommendations continue to change.
Maury said the Grayling High School sports department is proceeding as if it will “be able to operate on a semi-normal basis,” continuing with some COVID-19 mitigation efforts such as increased sanitization and adapting if necessary if conditions or restrictions change.
“I think those mitigations to an extent will stay,” Maury said. “We’ll have those (sanitization) mitigations in place.”
Maury said the current plan is to allow spectators and athletes to choose whether or not to mask up.
“It’s their choice,” Maury said.
For Grayling High School, the 2021 fall sports season includes football, volleyball, boys soccer, cross country, and girls golf.
For football, Eric Tunney returns as varsity coach and Chris Kucharek is back as the junior varsity coach.
Maury said the football program’s overall numbers are up from last year with more than 50 players signed up.
“We’re coming off a state semifinal run. We lost quite a few good, solid athletes for us but we return several juniors and sophomores back from last year’s team,” Maury said.
Maury said the football program’s conference will be a difficult one as Grayling’s division adds Sault Ste. Marie and Tawas.
The Vikings are in the Legends Division of the three-tiered Northern Michigan Football Conference with Benzie Central, Cheboygan, Kingsley, Ogemaw Heights, Sault Ste. Marie, Tawas, and Traverse City St. Francis.
Maury said it’s “a tough conference to be in” but the strong competition can help prepare the team for the playoffs.
“It’s a tough grind week in and week out. They’re all good opponents,” Maury said.
Last year, with the shortened football season, all teams qualified for the playoffs. This year, teams will have to qualify for the football postseason based on the MHSAA’s “Playoff Points” formula. There is no longer a set number of victories to qualify for the postseason.
The GHS varsity football team will open its 2021 season with a nonconference home game vs. Roscommon at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 26. The JV squad – for its season opener – will play at Roscommon High School at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 25.
The varsity boys soccer team from Grayling High School will open its 2021 season with home games against Benzie Central (Monday, August 23, 5 p.m.) and Ogemaw Heights (Thursday, August 26, 4 p.m.).
Andy Moore is back as coach of the program.
“Soccer is extremely young this year. That core group of seniors graduated,” Maury said. “It’s all up to the younger players. We’re young but we’ll be competitive.”
Maury said Coach Moore has been working with the players during the summer to get ready for the 2021 season.
“We’ll be competitive and he’ll have the kids ready come district time,” Maury said.
Tim Zigila (varsity) and Sarah Frisbie (junior varsity) are back as coaches of the Grayling High School volleyball program.
Maury said the program has 35 to 38 girls total. Maury said the program’s camps and summer work have helped create “great team camaraderie.”
“He expects to have a large varsity squad this year. Those girls put in the work during the summer,” Maury said. “They’re looking pretty good as a group together. This group has played together for two or three years now. They’re ready to compete.”
Maury said the school dropped from Division 2 to Division 3 in the volleyball playoffs, which should allow the squad to play smaller and more local schools in the postseason.
“It gives us a great chance to compete for a district title. It’s definitely realistic for us,” Maury said. “Our volleyball conference is a tough one but I see us competing in the top three, top four. With the group of girls we have, competing for the top spots is realistic.”
The varsity volleyball team will open its 2021 season with tournaments at Beal City and Standish-Sterling Central on August 20 and August 28, respectively. The squad’s first home meet is slated for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 31. The JV volleyball team will play at Alpena and Cadillac on August 20 and 23, respectively. The JV Vikings will host a quad meet on Thursday, August 26.
Justin Andre is back as coach of the varsity cross country program.
“He’s done a great job with those kids,” Maury said.
Maury said the squad is young but it has talent.
“The majority of that team were freshmen and sophomores last year,” Maury said. “They have a chance to make some noise as a cross country team. I look for them to compete within the conference and hopefully get some state qualifiers as well.”
The cross country squad will open its season with meets at Chippewa Hills and Benzie Central on August 24 and 28, respectively.
Maury returns as coach of the varsity girls golf team.
Maury said he’s trying to build the program’s numbers and help instill love for a game that the girls can play for years to come.
“It’s something they can do well beyond high school,” Maury said. “Last year we had four girls. Looks like we’re up to seven or eight. It’s great to see girls want to play golf.”
Last year, because of spectator limits and restrictions, Grayling High School used the online ticket service GoFan instead of the usual ticketing process, and the school did not sell season passes.
In 2021, season passes will be available for sale at the Grayling High School office starting this week, and passes will also be sold at the first few home games of the fall campaign. Tickets for individual games will be sold through both the traditional method and online through GoFan, Maury said.