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Yet another delay: State of Michigan order forces Michigan High School Athletic Association to delay start of basketball, hockey, wrestling to at least Feb. 21

Negaunee’s Will Luke, right, sinks this short jumper in the fourth quarter while being guarded by Gwinn’s James Harnick, left, and David Duvall in their MHSAA Division 3 boys basketball district tournament game played at the Modeltowners gym on March 11. (Photo coutesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“We did not anticipate this delay in winter contact practices and competition, and (Friday’s) announcement has created many new questions.” — Mark Uyl, executive director, Michigan High School Athletic Association

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DETROIT — In the ever-evolving world of coronavirus pandemic controls, a Friday state order has placed another roadblock for most Michigan high school winter sports seasons.

A relatively short seven-paragraph statement emailed by the Michigan High School Athletic Association indicates that the start of girls and boys basketball, hockey, wrestling and competitive cheer has been pushed back to at least Feb. 21, if not a few days later.

Marquette Senior High School athletic director Alex Tiseo, one of 19 members of the MHSAA’s Representative Council that makes decisions for the high school sports governing body, agreed.

Iron Mountain's Evan Hafekorn, top, gets Ishpeming's Jaeger Wilson in a hold during their 119-pound match at an MHSAA Division 4 wrestling individual district tournament held at Westwood High School on Feb. 15. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

“Based on the new order, basketball, competitive cheer, hockey and wrestling won’t be able to begin ‘contact’ practices until Monday, 2/22/21,” he said in an email Friday evening.

Just a few weeks ago, it was announced that those sports’ starts would be Feb. 1. And Friday’s overall statement from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services through Gov. Gretchen Whitmer indicated controls were loosening as the coronavirus caseload has lessened in recent weeks. Restaurant indoor dining is to be allowed again on Feb. 1, for example, along with concessions at theaters and stadiums.

But the order delaying contact in practices, games or meets has now been extended by the state.

“Those sports (basketball, hockey and wrestling) can still hold practices as they are now in a noncontact format with masks and social distancing at all times,” Tiseo said in his email. “It was originally planned for those sports to begin contact practices on 2/1/21 with contests following (2/1/21 for hockey, 2/4/21 for basketball and 2/8/21 for wrestling). New start dates for competition will be established by the MHSAA Representative Council early next week.”

MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said his group will be looking at more facets of the order this weekend, as the order was sprung upon them at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

“We will address it as quickly as possible after taking the weekend to collect more information,” Uyl said in the MHSAA email. “We did not anticipate this delay in winter contact practices and competition, and today’s announcement has created many new questions.

“Obviously, this is disappointing to thousands of athletes who have been training with their teams over the last week and watching teams in other states around Michigan play for the last two months.”

Tiseo echoed those sentiments.

“(Friday’s) unanticipated news regarding an extension of the pause to winter contact sports is disappointing in many ways,” the MSHS AD said. “First and foremost, I feel for the impacted student-athletes, as well as their coaches, who have been doing everything within their power to have a safe and successful winter season.

“Even with the new array of challenges that this order presents us with, I know that the MHSAA staff as well as myself and other members of the MHSAA Representative Council will work tirelessly in the coming days to gather information and find a solution that holds true to our desire for three sports seasons to see their appropriate conclusion while providing our constituents with the athletics experience that they deserve.”

Another part of the MHSAA’s statement was allowing more spectators at the state 11-player football championship games that started Friday and continue today at Ford Field in Detroit.

The MDHHS order now allows a higher capacity at “sports arenas with capacities of at least 10,000 spectators” — that capacity doubling to 500.

But the MHSAA said it was too late to change the 250 number previously allowed with all the planning of teams and spectators coming from all over the state to the home of the Detroit Lions, which seats many times over 10,000.

“We have been planning these finals for weeks to include immediate family, and unfortunately this isn’t a process we can adjust midstream,” Uyl said in the MHSAA email. “Distributing more tickets would put stress on those plans and Ford Field staffing, and force schools to make more hard decisions on who will be able to attend, but at the last second instead of with prior planning.”

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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