The high school football playoffs in Michigan are scheduled to resume on Saturday following two months of delays caused by regulations in place to battle the spread of COVID-19, giving Grayling High School’s Vikings an opportunity to continue their postseason run.
It’s been an unusual football season. On, off, on off, on again. First, on August 14, the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced it was postponing the 2020 fall football campaign to the spring of 2021 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In early September, the MHSAA announced a change in plans, reinstating fall football with an abbreviated schedule (six regular season games plus one guaranteed playoff contest).
For a while, it went okay. The Vikings finished their 2020 regular season, posting a 3-3 record. Grayling won its first round Division 6, Region 21, District 42 playoff game 47-12 vs. Benzie Central on October 30. A week later, Grayling won 49-14 at Manistee in the district semifinals. On November 14, in the District 42 championship game, the Vikings won 28-20.
Then, on November 15, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services suspended high school in-person learning and sports for three weeks, putting a pause on the football playoffs. The MDHHS later extended the suspension for another 12 days.
In late December, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services lifted its ban on in-person learning at high schools, and it offered a “pilot program” for COVID-19 testing to allow fall sports teams to finish their seasons. The Vikings resumed practices for football and the school worked to get its field ready.
Then, another setback. The Michigan High School Athletic Association, on December 22, ordered practices to stop while it finalized pilot program testing details with the MDHHS.
The MHSAA announced on December 26 that football teams could “begin two days of outdoor, non-contact conditioning and drills, wearing helmets and shoulder pads with physical distancing, on Monday, December 28, in advance of the first round of testing December 30 as part of an MDHHS rapid testing pilot program.”
“Schools will test players, coaches, and other team personnel, with full-contact practice then allowed after a first round of negative results. The testing program will utilize BinaxNOW antigen tests that produce results within 15 minutes,” according to the MHSAA.
The Vikings have resumed their practices and their Region 21 championship game vs. Negaunee is now slated for 2 p.m. on Saturday, January 9, at Viking Stadium.
“All is a go as we speak,” Coach Eric Tunney said on Sunday, January 3. “(We have) done two tests so far and it has gone very smoothly. We will test three more times this week.”
UPDATE: The football playoff games were set to proceed with no spectators allowed, but following an announcement from the MHSAA on Wednesday, January 6, limited numbers of spectators will now be allowed. From the MHSAA: “Limited numbers of spectators will be allowed for the final rounds of the Michigan High School Athletic Association football tournaments, per approval received today from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Football teams will receive 125 tickets, to be divided among game participants for purchase by immediate family members via the GoFan digital ticketing platform. Spectators in different households must be spaced out by six feet and maintain distancing at all other times including arrival and departure from the game facility. Spectators also must wear face masks at all times.”
GHS athletic department officials confirmed on Wednesday morning that the school would be offering limited tickets for Saturday's game; an official announcement from the school is expected to be available on Thursday, January 7.
According to Grayling High School officials, Saturday’s regional championship game will be broadcast on WQON radio Q100, and the school will live stream the contest through Pixellot via the MHSAA Network/NFHS Network.