OSCODA – On the field, the Oscoda football team never lost a game in 2020. The Owls will have their season come to an end in the early days of 2021 however, as they have opted to not participate in the rebooted MHSAA fall post-season.
“It has been a great season, a tremendous season,” head coach Mark Whitley said Monday, shortly after the announcement. “This team is going to down in history as being one of the best, if not the best team that every played in Oscoda, going 9-0. I think the bottom line is we have to look out for our kids’ safety. This sport is very, very demanding and very brutal at times. For many different reasons, to keep our kids safe we have elected to stop and we are not going to be playing in our regional finals game and that is a collective decision. We just don’t have the players available to continue and to keep it safe and a fun and educational environment.”
The Owls were scheduled to play for a division seven regional championship at Traverse City St. Francis on Jan. 9, and even practiced on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, but after another brief delay in the season only had 13 players show up to practice on Monday. Before the latest delay, the game was scheduled to take place Jan. 2. Whitley feels had this latest stoppage not occurred, Oscoda would have been able to put together a team, even with key injuries and other key members not wanting to play. However, it appears the latest stoppage was the straw that broke the camels’ back.
“I think if we would not have had the pause and continued to play on Jan. 2, that we would have kept everyone’s interest,” Whitley said. “We were working to get the kids back in shape both physically and mentally, including practicing outdoors. Who knows, we may get this whole football thing shut down again but as it stands right now, Mark Uyl (MHSAA director) has basically said this is not going to happen in the spring and if it is going to happen, it is going to happen now.”
After a delay to start the regular season, the Owls breezed through their abbreviated six game schedule, only giving up six points and coasting to a North Star League title. Oscoda won its first three playoff games as well, most recently having played on Nov. 13, when it held on to defeat Evart 38-35 to win the program’s first ever district title. The season was postponed again on Nov. 15, and has since been delayed twice more.
“Our organization cannot in good conscious allow our remaining kids to compete in mid-January after this period of inactivity, especially absent several athletes who are not able to participate for a variety of individual and personal reasons,” Oscoda Area Schools superintendent Scoot Moore said in a mass email. “The decision to continue this tournament in the midst of a pandemic, in the middle of the winter and with very limited practices afforded to our children is not something we feel comfortable with. It is unfortunate but prudent that the consensus to withdraw from the tournament was made and our heart goes out to the remaining 13 students that were willing to forge ahead, but the fact remains that the safety of our students must come first. The challenge for all schools, but particularly those in Divisions seven and eight are that if a few students are not capable of competing for whatever reason, the result is having an inadequate number of athletes that can safely participate at this level.”
Moore went on to praise this year’s team later in the email.
“Our football team has elevated their performance and commitment to compete and represent OAS to levels that have not been achieved in recent Oscoda football history. The accomplishments of this group in regards to championships and awards has been earned through dedication exerted by the students, staff and our collective families. Again, we would like to thank all of you for your support for our kids and we are confident that you will join us in congratulating the “’Undefeated 2020 Oscoda Owl Football Team.’”