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MHSAA pushes football to spring

MHSAA pushes football to spring
Red Hawk Miles Cartwright knocks down a Forest Hills Northern pass during their last game in the OK-White conference last fall, where they took their second consecutive championship. Photo by J. Harnden.

By Judy Reed

After two consecutive championships in the OK-White, Red Hawk players, coaches and fans were looking forward to their matchups this fall in the OK-Gold. And until late last week, it looked like the Michigan High School Athletic Association was going to let the season proceed as long as all the COVID-19 safeguards were being followed. But it was not to be.

On Friday, August 14, the Representative Council of the MHSAA announced it will move the 2020 Fall football season to Spring 2021, due to football’s higher risk for spreading COVID-19, with the rest of Fall sports proceeding as scheduled.

According to a news release from the MHSAA, the football season switch was made based on consultation with state health department   officials and after surveying MHSAA member high schools on their progress and preferences after the first four days of practice. Football is considered a high-risk sport for potential spread of the COVID-19 virus because of its level of player-to-player contact.

A total of 34,219 student-athletes played football at MHSAA member schools during the 2019 season. A total of 520 11-player teams and 83 8-player teams were anticipated during late summer to play football this fall season.

“At the end of the day, we did everything we could to find a path forward for football this fall,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “But while continuing to connect with the Governor’s office, state health department officials, our member schools’ personnel and the Council, there is just too much uncertainty and too many unknowns to play football this fall.

“No one is willing to take the risk of COVID being passed on because of a high-risk sport. Decisions have to be made on our other sports as well, but none of those carry the same close, consistent, and face-to-face contact as football.”

Some Michigan athletic directors and coaches have posted on social media that they never received the survey. John Norton, CAA, the Athletic Director for Cedar Springs Public Schools, told the Post he did receive the survey, but was in favor of continuing the season. 

“The survey came from the MHSAA executive director late in the day and was due the next morning,” he explained. “The survey asked for our opinions on basically all Fall sports and (not sure of exact wording) but if we wanted to continue on/ or if we thought it was safe to continue on for each sport. I responded that I felt we were at a point, in regards to safety of coaches and athletes, that we could continue on with all the fall sports, football included.”

Norton thinks the team may have been safer playing football than not.

“I feel the MHSAA has put some serious and strict safeguards in place that have made competitive school athletics an extremely safe environment for our coaches and kids.  Personally, without sports or without football specifically, I do not know if our student-athletes will be as conscious about wearing masks, hygiene, social distancing and gathering in large groups on their own time. While I know this is an unpredictable virus that can do serious harm, we will never be able to completely eliminate that risk, but I feel our athletic venues are a safe place where the risk of transmission has been drastically reduced compared to sectors of our society.   

“A lot of time and extra work by school administrators, coaches and custodians, along with guidance from the health department and the MHSAA have helped to make our facilities a place where I feel the transmission of Covid-19 is reduced and at a low risk, but I am also not a medical professional.”

Head football coach Gus Kapolka shared what he was feeling about the announcement with the Cedar Springs football family and fans through Facebook. “I would like to reach out to the Cedar Springs Football Family in this time of uncertainty and reassure everyone that this postponement is a minor setback. For the past week, we have grown together as a team, family and community. I believe that this cruel act of injustice will not end us, nor will it define us. It will only serve to make us stronger, toughen our resolve, and focus our efforts. 

“I do not know what the future will bring, but I look forward to a day that I can hug each and everyone of you again and tell you how much you mean to me, and we can share that brotherhood in pursuit of our dreams. Someday very soon, ‘Hell’s Bells’ will play over the loudspeakers, while a Red & Black clad team will take the field in front of an entire small town, and all will be right with the world on a Friday Night. But until that day, never take anything for granted, and covet each day we have together as a gift. Until that day….Go Red Hawks.”

The team continued practicing together through Wednesday. An announcement of some kind was expected Wednesday on what spring football might look like but was postponed until Thursday.

Meanwhile there is a protest movement afoot, made up of thousands of fans and parents, protesting the MHSAA decision. The group, called Let Michigan High School football play!!, is active on Facebook and has done several interviews about the impact of the MHSAA’s decision, and hopes to get them to reverse it.

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