New executive order allows sports competition to resume in parts of Michigan
Fri, 09/04/2020 - 9:44am caleb
Michigan High School Athletic Association announces reinstatement of football statewide, start of soccer and volleyball games in Regions 1-5 and 7
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Grayling High School, which is located in Region 6 of Michigan, started its fall sports competition during the last week of August, a time when schools in the southern part of the state were not able to host games and practices for some sports, but a new “Safe Start” executive order from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday, September 3, allowed that to change, and it prompted the Michigan High School Athletic Association to reinstate fall football.
Executive Order 2020-176 – signed on September 3 – replaces the previous “Safe Start” order (Executive Order 2020-160) and Executive Order 2020-162 (a brief clarification for Executive Order 2020-160). It allows gyms and pools in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 “to reopen on Wednesday, September 9,” and it adds a section regarding “Organized Sports” that allows “practices and competitions to resume in those regions where they remain restricted, subject to strict protections meant to limit spread of (COVID-19),” according to the governor’s office.
The order followed a recent promise from the governor to provide an update to the state with regard to the issue.
“I want to say a few words about gyms and organized sports. I know a lot of people are feeling anxious, our students and parents and coaches and small business owners, and I also know Michiganders – me included – love sports. We love to compete; it’s in our DNA and it’s a part of what makes this state so special,” Governor Whitmer said on Wednesday, September 2.
“When it comes to battling COVID-19 we all have to be on the same team and I want people to understand that we are working around the clock and have been throughout the duration to ensure that every determination is made with the best expertise, the best protocols, following the best science, and that’s what we’ve continued to do, and that’s how we will continue to operate. It’s what also has contributed to Michigan being in the strong position that we are relative to the rest of the country, and we have to get this right, so we take this very seriously, and the decisions that I will make in the coming days and announce are made in a way that will be protecting athletes and families and coaches and parents and patrons, our small business owners as well,” Governor Whitmer said.
In August, some fall sports in Michigan had different restrictions depending on region and COVID-19 risk factor.
On August 14, the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced the postponement of the 2020 fall football season to the spring of 2021. The MHSAA classifies football as a “higher-risk” sport because it involves “close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants,” according to the MHSAA.
On September 3, after the signing of Executive Order 2020-176, the MHSAA announced that it is reinstating fall football statewide.
“The fall 2020 football season has been reinstated today by the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association after Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-176 lifted restrictions that previously did not allow the sport to be played,” according to the association.
According to the MHSAA, football teams can practice on September 8 and 9 “in helmets and shoulder pads before adding full pads September 10.”
“They may begin regular season games September 18, and will play six games beginning with their originally scheduled Week 4 contests. All football teams will qualify for the playoffs during this fall’s shortened season,” according to the MHSAA.
On August 20, the MHSAA announced that “moderate-risk” sports such as boys soccer and volleyball could begin competition as scheduled but only in Region 6 (most of northern Michigan) and Region 8 (the Upper Peninsula). “Moderate risk sports involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the likelihood of respiratory particle transmission between participants or intermittent close contact, or group sports, or sports that use equipment that can’t be cleaned between participants,” according to the MHSAA.
After the announcement of Executive Order 2020-176, the MHSAA opened boys soccer competition in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7, and it announced that indoor volleyball practice and competition could begin in those regions on Wednesday, September 9. Previously, volleyball could only practice outside in regions other than 6 and 8.
“(Governor) Whitmer’s executive order also allows for an immediate start of competition (for) boys soccer” and a start date for “girls volleyball on Wednesday, September 9, for schools located in Regions 1-5 and 7 based on the MI Safe Start Plan,” according to the MHSAA.
Sports classified as “lower-risk” – including girls golf and cross country – have been practicing and competing across the state as originally scheduled with modifications, including limits on the number of participants at meets.
The signing of Executive Order 2020-176 allows sports in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 to resume games and indoor practices as scheduled, but it comes with a long list of protocols. It also came with a warning from one of the state’s top health officials.
“Individuals can now choose whether or not to play organized sports, and if they do choose to play, this order requires strict safety measures to reduce risk,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). “However, we know of 30 reported outbreaks involving athletic teams and facilities in August. Based on current data, contact sports create a high risk of COVID-19 transmission and MDHHS strongly recommends against participating in them at this time. We are not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 is still a very real threat to our families.”
Restrictions on indoor competition for Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 include spectator limits (“sports organizers must ensure that the live audience is limited to the guests of the athletes with each athlete designating up to two guests”) and a ban on concessions.
Grayling High School was finishing the second week of competition for its current slate of fall sports – volleyball, boys soccer, cross country, and girls golf – when the governor announced the signing of Executive Order 2020-176.
Crawford AuSable School District Athletic Director Nate Maury said “it went well” during the first two weeks of hosting fall sports games and meets at Grayling High School.
“The nice thing for our volleyball and soccer teams is that we’ve been doing these protocols all summer. Our kids from the beginning have always been supportive. If it means they get to play, they’ll do it,” Maury said.
Maury said the size of Viking Stadium allows for more than adequate physical distancing during soccer games, so the athletic department was more concerned about spectator limits inside for volleyball. According to Executive Order 2020-176, the current spectator limit at outdoor venues in Region 6 is “25% of its maximum capacity or to 500, whichever is smaller,” and the current indoor venue spectator limit in Region 6 is “25% of its maximum capacity or to 250, whichever is smaller.”
Maury said the school has reached its spectator limit for volleyball a couple of times but it was able to rotate fans inside as others left.
“Volleyball hit capacity twice but we never had to turn anyone away. Everyone who’s wanted to come has been able to get in,” Maury said.
Maury said spectators have been cooperative with regard to physical distancing in the bleachers and wearing face coverings.
“Everyone has been great about spreading out,” Maury said. “There’s been no issues.”
“We’re just happy to be playing,” Maury said.