LOCKED OUT?

A lock on the Tawas Area football field could have been an eerie symbol of what the future held, as Tawas Area athletic director Matt Unke had announced he will recommend the cancellation of fall sports in the district, excluding cross country. 

TAWAS CITY – When the MHSAA announced Thursday afternoon that fall sports’ competition could resume, it was mostly good news for those involved with high school athletics. 

Tawas Area athletic director Matt Unke felt the announcement left much to be desired, however, so much so in fact that he has stated he plans to propose to the school board that fall sports at the district, excluding cross country, be canceled. 

“I met with Superintendent John Klinger (Friday) and we discussed the future of fall sports after Thursday’s executive order,” Unke, who added the board meeting could either be Wednesday Sept. 9 or Monday Sept. 14 said. “At the meeting John and I had, we feel we have to follow the guidance of the Michigan Health and Human Services to not play contact sports.” 

However, Klinger, in a telephone call Tuesday, Sept. 8 said fall sports at Tawas is a go and that a special meeting by the school board would not be needed.

While cross country will be permitted to go on at the school, volleyball, football, soccer and girls junior high girls basketball would be terminated this fall sports season, under Unke’s recommendation. 

“I did recommend that we continue cross country as they were given the green light (by the MHSAA) from the get-go,” Unke said. 

Unke’s breaking point is the stipulation that athletes must now wear masks during competition; while previously it was only coaches and players on the bench that had to wear them.

“We are being ordered to restrict our athletes’ oxygen intake during competition and I have a severe opposition to that,” he said. “I asked (Klinger) to move this on to the board of education and going against it would require board approval.” 

In the meantime, Tawas’ teams are still practicing, and the Braves’ soccer team, which is scheduled to play in Alpena today (Wednesday) heads north to play the contest.

“Every athletic director in the state was prepared to get ready to play sports and while we were given the green light to play sports on Thursday, it was under a totally different set of guidelines,” Unke said. “Right now they are practicing for sure, and if a team (in phase five) is willing to host us (we will play). We are still in phase four… Right now, Tawas is not prepared to host an event until my board of education rules concerning the masks worn by athletes. I’m not going to host an event that could possibly put kids in danger.

“That’s the way I am approaching it,” he added. “I was very disappointed on Thursday with the executive order as the governor simply washed her hands of the situation. She simply gave up.” 

Hale co-athletic director Ryan Parkinson admits that while there are plenty of unknowns while returning to play fall sports, the school feels the need to play on.

“Our plan at the moment is to move forward with our high school sports, following the guidelines set forth in the new executive order,” he said. “At this point we are thinking we will probably put junior high sports on hold due to the mask requirement and due to the fact that there are not state tournaments in consideration there. We could possibly play those seasons in a different time of year and it wouldn’t have any real effect like it would in high school.” 

He admits the situation isn’t exactly clear, especially when the question of wearing masks is brought up. 

“It appears to me that the governor’s office is not 100-percent behind it, let’s put it that way,” Parkinson said. “I think we have to watch these first few days and just see how our athletes react to this. It is a new and different situation so we will try to manage it the best we can at this point.” 

Oscoda athletic director Mike Buchinger is happy to get his athletes back on the field. 

“We are going to follow the MHSAA guidance on masks, but I think we are really excited that our athletes have an opportunity to do what they love to do, same as our coaches,” he said. “It is certainly going to be a balancing act of playing the sport and following the rules as given to us. We are going to do our best to provide our students the opportunity to have team sports… We have some concerns that the athletes have to wear masks all the time now and we want to make sure that we are putting them in a safe spot to participate. We may go to bed and the next day there may be a rule or new data that suggests we do something different.” 

On top of the heightened mask requirements, Buchinger was caught off guard by another announcement. 

“Football coming back to the fall was a surprise to me,” he said. “I wish I understood a lot of the things the state and MHSAA are doing but I guess that they were afraid there wouldn’t be a spring (football season).” 

Whittemore-Prescott athletic director Anne Mervyn confirmed that the school plans to proceed with fall sports as well, while following the current guidelines. 

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