Coaches react to high school sports getting shut down again – Battle Creek Enquirer

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St. Philip sophomores Kate Doyle (3) and Maddie Hoelscher (1) embrace after winning the Division 4 regional final against Athens on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 at Climax-Scotts Jr./Sr. High School in Climax, Mich.

In the world of sports, this feels like an instant replay.

Similar to what happened last March, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has shut down sports in the state.

This time, however, coaches are hoping it won’t be six months again before they can get to enjoy practices and games again.

Announced late Sunday, the MHSAA suspended its ongoing fall tournaments and all practices and competitions scheduled for winter sports for the next three weeks in accordance with the emergency order put out by the Michigan Department of Health and Human services to limit the spread of  COVID-19.

Pennfield senior Ryne Petersen (8) passes the ball on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020 at Larkin-Nortman Memorial Field in Williamston, Mich.

“It’s disappointing, but all we can do is stay positive and hope for the best, hope everyone stays healthy and we can get back on the court again and have a season,” said Harper Creek boys basketball coach Matt Bowling.

Just a day after the third round of the high school football postseason was completed, the announcement was made as regional finals were scheduled for this week. Feeling like it could get the season in, the MHSAA had announced on Friday a plan to have the state finals at Ford Field the weekend of Dec. 4-5 to finish the playoffs.

The final week of the high school volleyball state tournament was set for this week as well, as remaining teams were looking to advance to the Final Four previously set for Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek on Thursday-Saturday.

The MHSAA State Swim Finals were also set for this week with a handful of athletes preparing for that meet on Saturday.

Harper Creek students cheer on the volleyball team during the Division 2 regional semifinal against South Haven on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020 at Harper Creek High School in Battle Creek, Mich. Harper Creek defeated South Haven 3-2.

“We understand the need for action, and we will explore all options to complete our fall tournaments when restrictions are lifted,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “We will assess everything over the next three weeks relative to fall and winter sports and come up with a plan that keeps us connected to our goal, for months, of having three seasons that are played to their conclusions.”

The hope is that restrictions will be lifted as scheduled on Dec. 7. The last time, in March, there was a shutdown, the rest of the winter sports season was suspended, the spring sports season was canceled and high school athletes didn’t compete again until August.

“I think it’s a little different than last time,” St. Philip Athletic Director/volleyball coach Vicky Groat said. “At least, I hope the outcome is different. We are just suspended right  now, nothing has been canceled. We hope we can continue. Last time, there was a lot more uncertainty.”

St. Philip was set to play in a Division 4 state quarterfinal match at Portage Northern on Tuesday. From the area, Bronson was also still alive in the volleyball tournament.

“Just talked to my team on Zoom. We have some upset kids and we have an upset coach, too,” Groat said Sunday night. “But health and safety has to be first and foremost.

“I’ve been saying all along, every day is a gift that we get to play. But then it comes down to this and it’s like, no, this can’t happen. But we have been able to have a season after everyone had to sit out for six months. And we are still hoping to finish out this season. And right now, we are just praying we eventually play on Dec. 7.”

The last high school events played this fall were Pennfield, Olivet and Colon competing in football playoffs Friday and Saturday. 

Last March, Harper Creek and Pennfield had just played in a district semifinal basketball game on a Wednesday, and on Thursday the season was suspended. 

Bowling, who was getting ready for Harper Creek’s first official practice since that day, wonders if things will be different.

“One day we were in the semifinals and then it was all over, just like that,” Bowling said. “It’s almost been a whole year since that happened, and in some ways, right now after the MHSAA announcement, it seems like we haven’t made any progress. But we’re hoping to in the next three weeks.”

Marshall’s athletic program seemed to have an inkling something like this might happen. Marshall had already made the choice, via a letter sent out to athletes and parents on Friday, that all winter sports practices would be suspended. At the time, Marshall was putting things on hold until Nov. 30, and would allow the girls swim team to go to the state finals.

“I guess, it turns out, we were already trending that way,” said Marshall Athletic Director Dan Coddens. “It didn’t take a genius to see that cases and trends were going in the wrong decision. There were other schools that were making those kinds of decisions also last week. 

“We had to do what was right for Marshall, but the hope was that it would be easier for all the schools to do something like that so there could be consistency with practices and games across the board. In the end, I guess that decision was made for us.”

With volleyball and swimming being indoor sports, those seasons could conclude at a later date as scheduled, whenever that is. Winter sports could schedule a later start and announce a shorter season, as was set up in the fall. High school football will have to deal with weather and finding a site for the state finals as it pushes its season back.

“I think we can get through this. Last time it happened in March, there were a lot of unknowns. We know a bit more now how to deal with it,” Coddens said. “I think if we can take a page out of our own playbook as a society and do the right things, we can change things and we might be able to return sooner rather than later. That’s what everybody wants.”

Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or bbroderi@battlecreekenquirer.com. Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick.

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