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Friday’s roadmap from MHSAA will give ‘how’ school athletics will return, but maybe not ‘when’: ‘We still can’t rush this’

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, May 28, 2020, 1:46 pm

When the Michigan High School Athletic Association sends out its Guidance for Opening School Sports on Friday, executive director Mark Uyl is satisfied it will provide a solid road map, showing schools the ‘how’ portion of resuming school-based athletics.

What it won’t necessarily do is answer the question he’s constantly getting: The ‘when.’

“The good part about this … is we’re really happy with this, but this only addresses the how. What is still the big, unanswered question for everybody is the ‘when’? And I get this question on almost a daily basis, of ‘Hey, Mark — what’s August going to look like?’ And what I keep telling people is ‘Look, I don’t know exactly what the end of next week is going to look like, much less next month. Or certainly when it comes to August,” Uyl said Wednesday, in an appearance on ‘The Huge Show’ radio program. 

“But we’re getting things in place, and when our state government leaders begin to reduce those restrictions, and allow kids and coaches to work again, the how is already in place. We’re going to have that out. 

“Now, we’re just trying to work with our elected leaders to figure out then ‘when.’”

The MHSAA developed its plan — which has three phases — in concert with the National Federation of State High School Associations and its Sports Medicine Advisory committees, which include physicians and other medical professionals, as well as school administrators. It let athletic directors know last week it was coming

The first step, which could come as soon as the state lifts the state of emergency — the latest extension runs through June 19 — has hygienic components which must be met before kids come back on campus, then deals first with getting kids back in shape.

“It’s really in three steps. The first step is it’s in small groups of no more than 10 kids. It really focuses on individual workouts and really conditioning, because for the most part — as we’re nearing on the three-month marker here of the quarantine — we have an awful lot of kids that have been at home, and just haven’t had a ton of physical activity. So in that first step, again it’s in small groups, it’s using social distancing, but just getting kids active, and getting them back in condition a little bit. Then, in the second step, increasing the number of kids from those small groups of 10, to larger groups outside. And then in the third and final step, it’s really kind of getting back on a path of normalcy,” Uyl said.

“So it’s really giving our schools this document, which is going to give them a roadmap for when the time is right and safe to resume activity, they’ll be able to really plug into that, and go.”

There have been questions of when the summer rules would go into place.

Uyl noted that it won’t be June 1, as would normally be the case, but the MHSAA is seeking clarity on when it actually will take place.

[RELATED]: MHSAA releases ‘Guidance for Opening School Sports’ document, outlining a roadmap of ‘how’ high school sports can resume in Michigan

“Our summer rules would begin next Monday, on June 1st. Well, that doesn’t mean that ‘Oh, well, we’re back into summer activities.’ School facilities are close while the emergency order is in place. That was from one of Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer’s early executive orders, and right now that runs all the way through June the 19th. Now, certainly what Gov. Whitmer’s office could do is they could back that order up. Instead of the emergency order being in place until the 19th, it could become the 12th,” the executive director said. 

“There’s also one question that’s unanswered is the other time summer rules could kick in is the end of an individual school district’s school year. The last scheduled day they had for students … if you look at one of the other executive orders, it talked about the last day of school being when school facilities were closed. So we’ve still got some unanswered questions. Gov. Whitmer’s office has been very good to us, in terms of the communication and information back and forth. What we’re hoping to have by Friday of this week is not only the ‘how,’ that guidance document, but hopefully we’ll be able to give folks a little bit better idea of when the ‘when’ is going to be. It’s not going to be June 1st, when our summer rules would normally kick in, but we’re hoping within the next week or two into June, we’ll start to have some activity.”

Regardless of that date, the MHSAA doesn’t plan to rush into anything, though, Uyl cautioned. 

“Also, I need to say this loud and clear: I think if you talk to most school people, they would absolutely like a slower start in June. To where if that means if we’re going to wait an additional week or two — or even three — to where maybe some of this summer activity couldn’t really get started in earnest until after the Fourth of July, if that meant that we’re all doing our part, we’re flattening the curve, we’re really putting ourselves in a good position, to where once we now get into August and September, and we’re able to have some normalcy when it comes to the school day, as well as what school sports looks like,” he said. “We still can’t rush this. I know it’s tough, and people are chomping at the bit, but we still need to re-start smartly here, so we don’t end up paying for this again come August or September with a second spike, or a second wave.”

Uyl also acknowledges the association is walking a fine line to balance the needs of the whole state, some parts of which are less impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and beginning to open back up, and some parts that are still reeling. And there’s the understanding that the states to our south — both Ohio and Indiana — are further ahead on the timeline in their return to athletics. 

“That of course, is the million dollar question: How do you come up with guidelines that are going to work for everybody, because you’ve got the Tri-County area in Metro Detroit, where they’ve been impacted by the coronavirus — outside of potentially New York City or New Orleans, there hasn’t been a bigger impact,” Uyl said.  

“Then my wife is from our Upper Peninsula, and I’ll get a text from my brother-in-law who still lives up there, and they’re just shaking their head about why we’re not allowing activity yet, because they’ve had two total cases in their entire county, and both of those have been out at the local prison. So again, how do you come up with that right balance between Metro Detroit, who’s been really hit hard by this, and the more outlying areas of our state, which have been virtually unaffected. That’s part of the challenge here: to come up with a set of rules that will hopefully work for everybody.”

The other variable is how reluctant some parents might be to put their children back in an athletic environment. As a parent, Uyl understands that, as well.

“It’ll be a decision that families are going to need to make on their own. I think that we’re trying to make sure that we’ve got policies in place that are going to do everything within our control to make it so reopening is as safe as it can be. We’re certainly taking a slow, measured approach. It’s important to note that there are some parts of the country where it’s already become the wild, wild west, with summer baseball and softball starting up,” Uyl said. “I’ve got a son that’s on a team, and just got a text from his coach today that this organization is already holding tournaments in other states, and they anticipate his summer baseball schedule starting right around mid-June — which, given my day job, I find a little hard to believe that is going to happen. It’s going on other places, and they’re figuring out a way. I just hope that parents here in Michigan realize the slow and steady, and hopefully safe, approach we’re taking here in our state.”