OSCODA – On Sunday, when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all organized athletics to be put on hold for three weeks, as a part of her latest executive order amid that COVID-19 pandemic; that once again had a major impact on high school athletics.
Seemingly moments later, the MHSAA announced that its fall post-season tournaments were suspended and winter athletics would be halted as well, keeping them from practicing and competing. The order is effective immediately and will run through at least Dec. 8.
This brings to an abrupt halt to ongoing fall tournaments; girls swimming and diving, volleyball and football. In an email sent by the MHSAA, it said they will “be exploring all options to complete these three remaining fall tournaments.”
In Iosco County, Oscoda’s football team is the loan remaining team still active in the fall playoffs. The Owls won a thrilling 38-35 district championship over Evart at home on Friday night, and were scheduled to play Saturday at Traverse City St. Francis in the regional finals. Now, the team must wait to see if and when they’ll get that chance.
“I am still processing it a little bit, but we are very grateful that we got to play Friday night and we had the opportunity to win our program’s first district championship,” athletic director Mike Buchinger said. “I am disappointed that we are not able to continue this run at this time but we want to do what is best for the kids and their safety. (The MHSAA) says they are not done with the fall season, to me there is a window that we can continue playing at some point in the future. It would be great to see how far our boys could go. They worked hard and we all had very high hopes.”
As for when we might see the completion of the fall tournament; that is anybody’s guess at this point. Volleyball and swim is in its final week of the tournament, 8-man football has two weeks remaining and 11-man has three weeks to go.
“That is a great question, I really don’t know, I wish I had any sort of insight into what they are thinking,” Buchinger said. “I don’t know if they will want to try it in the winter, but I am sure that the (MHSAA) council will meet soon to get some preliminary ideas. I don’t see it happening this spring however.
“My hope is that everyone does what they need to so that when Dec. 8 rolls around, we will have a clearer picture of what is next for high school sports,” he added. “I am not going to write anything off right now. The last time we did that, football was in the spring and then we were playing in the fall again. I am hopeful for (winter sports); we will have to see what the council comes up with.”
Girls basketball had already begun practice on Monday, Nov. 9 and were slated for their first contests on Nov. 30. Boys basketball, wrestling and bowling were all scheduled to begin practice either this week or the coming weeks as well; but will of course be put on hold as well.
“My initial response is just that I feel terrible for those teams that are still in the state tournament or swimmers that qualified for the state finals,” Hale girls basketball coach and co-athletic director said. “Even if they do get their chance, it is going to be out of rhythm. We felt like there was this possibility that we could end up here from a winter sports standpoint, that we had a good chance of getting shutdown or have a shortened season. The question now will be are we able to get the numbers under control to where we can get going at some point. I am guessing three weeks won’t be enough, but we will see.”
Parkinson had already gone through a few practices with his girls basketball team, though he isn’t sure when he will be able to see his players inside the gym again.
“It is too early to tell, but I would think that the best case scenario for us is if we came back by the 8th, maybe you could get a couple of contests in before Christmas, though I think it effectively shuts us down for the rest of the year, from a competition standpoint anyways,” he said. “I am sad for the kids that they have to take another break; things were somewhat normal. I am sure that whatever we gained (last week in practice) is lost so when we come back in three weeks or whatever it is, it will be like starting over.”
Over at Whittemore-Prescott, athletic director Anne Mervyn is optimistic there will be a winter sports season; though likely an abbreviated one.
“At this point I am optimistic, especially since it is a long season,” she said. “I can certainly see the season shortened somewhat or reducing the number of allowed contests. I think (a late start) is a possibility; the MHSAA is very devoted to having three sports seasons and they are going to work really hard to try and make that happen.
“All I know right now is that I have an email from the MHSAA saying that everything has been suspended until Dec. 8,” she added. “We’ll have to stay tuned for updates.”
Tawas Area was actually the lone school district to have already shuttered its athletics. On Friday, superintendent John Klinger announced that due to eight students and one staff member contracting COVID-19, and several others being put in quarantine as a result will suspend in person instruction in the middle school and high school building; athletics included until Dec. 11. The school and its athletics tentatively plan to resume Dec. 14.
“My initial reaction to the MHSAA putting athletics on hold is that it makes sense,” Klinger said. “The raising cases of COVID-19 is concerning both at a state level and a local level. Any time you have to suspend any extracurricular activities where students would have the opportunity to perform, it is heartbreaking but we need to keep safety as a priority.”
Klinger wasn’t able to speculate on what the immediate future holds.
“Trying to anticipate if high school athletics will be able to resume in three weeks is a difficult task,” he said. “No one has a crystal ball for these types of situations. The best we can do is follow the health and safety guidelines established by MDHHS and the CDC by wearing a mask, staying socially distanced, washing hands and limiting social gatherings. If we collectively follow these guidelines, then there might be a chance to resume both in-person instruction and extracurricular activities.”