Spring sports season interrupted by school closure due to coronavirus
After four days of official practices for spring sports teams, GHS – following a statewide school shutdown by the governor and a directive from the MHSAA to suspend all activities – cancels sports activity from March 13 through April 5
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Usually, the biggest obstacle that Michigan high school spring sports teams face at this time of the year is the weather. Has the snow melted? Are the fields and the courts dry? Is it warm enough to practice outside?
This year, however, amid growing nation-wide concerns regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), a fast-spreading respiratory illness, it is unknown if spring sports will even have a season.
On Friday, March 13, Grayling High School canceled all practices for spring sports for the day, for the weekend of March 14-15, and for March 16 through April 5, the three-week school shutdown period recently ordered by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and backed by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
“I am ordering the closure of all K-12 school buildings in Michigan for three weeks starting Monday, March 16, until Sunday, April 5,” Gov. Whitmer said. “My fellow governors across the country have ordered the closure of their schools as well in a number of states. This, we feel, is a necessary step to protect kids and teachers and families and our overall public health.”
For the Crawford AuSable School District, the mandated closure coincides in part with the district’s spring break, which was slated for March 20 through March 29. With the order to close, the district will now be out of session for an additional eight days (March 16 through March 19 and March 31 through April 3).
Grayling High School was scheduled to host Michigan High School Athletic Association postseason tournament games for basketball on Thursday, March 12 (girls regional finals) and Friday, March 13 (boys district finals), but the MHSAA announced on Thursday that it was suspending its winter playoffs due to coronavirus concerns. The suspension did not affect Grayling teams; as of Wednesday, all winter sports squads for GHS had finished their 2019-2020 seasons.
On Friday, March 13, the MHSAA announced a shutdown of all sports for Michigan high schools from March 16 through April 5.
“The Michigan High School Athletic Association has directed all member schools to suspend activities in all sports for all seasons – effective Monday, March 16, through at least Sunday, April 5 – to fall in line with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order that all schools close for the next three weeks in order to deter the spread of COVID-19,” according to the MHSAA. “All athletic activities to be halted include practices, scrimmages and competitions/games, as well as strength training, conditioning, and any other organized sessions and activities in all MHSAA in-season and out-of-season sports. The suspension of activities applies to sports for all three MHSAA seasons.”
“By suspending all sports activities for the next three weeks, we are taking an additional step to maintain safety and minimize risk first, and also keep a level playing field for our schools and teams during this time of uncertainty,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “A number of schools across the state already were making this decision, and setting this as the standard across our membership is appropriate especially given the quick pace with which this situation is continuing to evolve. Given the rapid, fast-moving, and unprecedented events of this week, the MHSAA will use the time during this all-sport suspension of activities to evaluate all options and next steps which will be shared with schools in a timely manner.”
The list of sports cancellations and postponements in the state and in the nation is growing. The NCAA Men’s and Women’s “March Madness” Division I basketball tournaments? Cancelled. The rest of the 2020 XFL season? Suspended. The National Basketball Association’s 2019-2020 season? Suspended. Major League Baseball’s spring training? Cancelled. Opening Day for MLB? Pushed back two weeks. Major League Soccer’s current season? Suspended for a month. Professional golf? Some tournaments have been cancelled; others have been postponed. College football? Several high profile teams – including the University of Michigan – have cancelled their spring games. National Hockey League? Suspended. And these are just a few of the biggest ones. There are many more cancellations at the state, national, and international levels.
The spring sports season for Grayling High School includes baseball, softball, girls soccer, boys golf, track, and girls tennis. Spring sports athletes started their official practice sessions for the season on Monday, March 9, but they were mostly restricted to indoor work due to snow on the fields, in the stadium, and on the tennis courts.
Before the suspension of the season, spring sports teams were able to get a few sessions of practice in the new Viking Activity Center, an expansion of the school’s physical education facilities that includes a full basketball court that can also be used for volleyball and tennis, a batting cage area with artificial turf, a running track on the second floor, and two locker rooms.
“It’s impressive. I’m excited for it,” said Nate Maury, Athletic Director for Grayling High School.
If the springs sports season does continue for Grayling, the campaign will include a mix of new coaches and returning ones. It is unknown how much the schedule may change from now until April 6.
Maury returns as coach of the varsity baseball team. Travis Hulbert is back as the JV baseball coach.
“Our coaching staff is the same as last year,” Maury said. “We’ll be strong as far as numbers go. I think our top six hitters will be strong. We’re going to steal a lot, hopefully.”
The team will be young with mostly juniors on the varsity squad, Maury said.
Maury said the varsity pitching staff will “mix and match different pitching styles.”
“Our defense is what’s going to have to be strong,” Maury said.
The varsity baseball team’s opening day was slated for Thursday, April 2, at Ogemaw Heights, but that doubleheader has been cancelled. The squad is scheduled to play at Harrison on Monday, April 6. The team’s home opener is slated for Thursday, April 16, vs. Cheboygan. The JV team is slated to host Harrison on Monday, April 6.
Doug Paulus, the JV softball coach at GHS for the past few years, is the new varsity softball coach. Pat Potter is the new JV coach.
“Doug moved up to varsity. Pat has been a baseball assistant the past few years. He made the jump to softball this year,” Maury said.
Maury said the softball program had solid overall numbers going into the first practice sessions with the possibility of having “14 to 15 girls at each level.”
“They return a good core,” Maury said regarding the varsity squad. “There’s a good mix of seniors, juniors, and sophomores that will contribute.”
The varsity softball program’s first doubleheader slated for Thursday, April 2, at West Branch Ogemaw Heights has been cancelled. The team is scheduled to travel to Harrison for a doubleheader on Monday April 6. The home opener for the Vikings is slated for Thursday, April 16, vs. Cheboygan. The JV softball team is scheduled to host Harrison on Monday, April 6.
Craig Cobb is back as the varsity girls soccer coach after being away from the program for a few years. Cobb coached the program in 2007 and in 2009 through 2016.
“He’s excited to be back coaching. He did a great job last time,” Maury said.
Maury said he expects numbers for the program to be down.
“Numbers are going to be low again, 14 to 15 girls,” Maury said. “They were senior heavy last year so he only has four or five returners.”
The soccer team’s season opener is scheduled for Monday, April 6, at Benzie Central. The Vikings are slated to host Traverse City Bulldog Athletic Association on Tuesday, April 7.
Mark Sloan returns as coach of the girls tennis squad. Maury said he expects solid numbers again for the tennis program this season.
“He’s got 20 girls again. He does a great job of getting girls to come out and play tennis,” Maury said. “He has a great mix of talent level.”
Maury hopes the Viking Activity Center’s indoor tennis court, which is equipped to be used in a regulation match, will help the tennis program in its preseason work this year, if needed, and in the future.
“Hopefully with them being able to get some court time will help their development,” Maury said.
The tennis team’s first two meets of the 2020 season are slated for April 7 and April 9 at Alpena and at Harbor Springs, respectively.
Michelle Moore is back as the coach of the varsity track and field program.
Maury said numbers for the track program are up, but the group still doesn’t have enough to cover every event, which makes it difficult to win meets as a team. He expects several members of the squad to make it through regionals to the state meet.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have six or seven state qualifiers,” Maury said.
Maury said the upstairs running area in the new Viking Activity Center should help the track athletes get ready for the season; they no longer have to run in the hallways at the high school during their preseason work. He hopes it will cut down on injuries such as shin splints.
“The nice thing for them, there’s now a track to run inside,” Maury said.
The track team is scheduled to compete in a Lake Michigan Conference meet at East Jordan on Wednesday, April 8.
Brad Duncan is back as the coach of the varsity boys golf program.
Maury said numbers are starting to improve for the golf team.
“He’s going to have probably 12 kids, definitely have a varsity team, probably get a few JV matches. We are definitely on the upward trend for competitive golf for the boys,” Maury said.
“I think we have a chance to have one or two golfers earn some form of all-conference, maybe make the state finals,” Maury said.
Maury expects the new Viking Activity Center to help the golf programs prepare for their seasons, since the facility has artificial turf and a batting cage area the squad can use to work on its swings.
“We can hit actual golf balls off of turf,” Maury said.
The golf squad’s first meet of the 2020 campaign is slated for Monday, April 20, at the Grayling Country Club.