The Let Them Play group thought its battle was done.
But another extension of the state’s emergency order brought another round to fight for the proponents of high school sports in Michigan.
“People have been hoping and crossing their fingers,” said Jayme McElvany, head of the Let Them Play movement that advocates for the full return of prep sports. “But now kids are at a breaking point, so instead of just hoping, parents are saying ‘This is enough. We can’t be pushed back again because we can’t go back any further.’
“It’s literally now or never for some of these kids.”
Since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday that contact sports such as basketball, hockey, wrestling and competitive cheer would not be allowed in Michigan until at least Feb. 21 – extending an order that was set to expire Feb. 1 – the uproar has grown louder among athletes, parents, coaches and fans across the state.
So Let Them Play has taken its game to the next level.
The group – which first formed during an August shutdown and has hosted two rallies at the Capitol Building in Lansing — incorporated as a non-profit organization and retained legal representation to take the matter to the courts, if needed.
Lansing attorney Peter Ruddell said he took the first steps in representing the group, issuing a letter Monday to Elizabeth Hertel, the newly named director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“We sent a letter to the new director this morning, urging her to change the order and allow sports to commence Feb. 1,” Ruddell said. “Based on the data and the science, we are hopeful the administration recognizes high school athletics are safe for students and are actually in their best interest.”
Ruddell shared with MLive the letter that spells out the group’s case for reinstating all high school sports. The letter offers a six-part argument with the headings Data and science supports resumption of youth sports, Experience from other states confirms safety of youth sports, Team sports are part of a student-athlete’s education, Education achievement is linked to athletic opportunities, Racial and economic inequities are growing, and Economic and education pathways are closing.
If the MDHHS doesn’t act on the request, Ruddell said the Let Them Play group then has the option of suing the state of Michigan. That could send the matter before the courts.
“The Governor has a very high batting average in these cases,” Ruddell said. “The courts have been very deferential to the Governor’s declaration of emergency. But this is a different case. There are different issues at play that have not been litigated so far.”
Let Them Play leaders feel they have science and data on their side.
The letter sent to the MDHHS says that 99.8 percent of the tests that athletes took in order to complete Michigan High School Athletic Association tournaments in football, volleyball and swimming this month were negative and that 98 percent of the fall sports competitions were contested.
It also cites a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin that found “participation in sports is not associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 among high school athletes.” That study showed that of the 209 positive cases among players in Wisconsin, only one was attributed to participation in sports.
“What makes this a strong case is our data,” said McElvany, a Monroe business owner and mother of a Milan High School athlete. “They refuse to show the data they’re using to shut sports down. We are doing the opposite.
“We’re basically telling the new director, ‘This is why we should be playing, here is the data. We’re asking you to change (former director Robert Gordon’s) executive order and move sports forward like everything else in the state.’
“Hopefully she’ll say ‘We understand. Let’s do this before it needs to go to court.’”
Let Them Play has another rally planned for noon Saturday at the Capitol and is banking on a large turnout of athletes, coaches and parents. McElvany said the group’s following on its Facebook page grew by 6,500 over the weekend after the latest extension was announced.
Most notably, she said, is the growing number of high school administrators who are joining the cause.
“We’re getting a much bigger response from the coaches and ADs,” she said. “They are fired up and ready to fight. Until now, most of them were not willing to say much, but I think everybody is finally saying enough is enough.”
Michigan is one of the last state’s in the nation to OK the return of high school sports. All states that border Michigan have resumed athletic activity.
Most believed Michigan was about to join them on Feb. 1. But the emergency order, while relaxing restrictions for restaurants, gyms, bowling centers, movie theaters and more, was extended for contact sports. And Let Them Play renewed the fight it believed was over.
“We would prefer not to take it to court,” McElvany said. “But we are 100 percent ready.”