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MHSAA pulls plug on fall football, announcing decision to move it to the spring

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, August 14, 2020, 6:25 pm

As much as they wanted to keep football in the fall, and play a true three seasons — as usual — the numbers just weren’t adding up, and the Michigan High School Athletic Association became the latest entity to make the decision to move football to the spring.

All along, the organization had maintained that it would keep going with the intention of playing in the fall, until they were forced to redirect to one of the many other alternatives. That day came Friday, when the Representative Council — which has been holding frequent virtual meetings. 

“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 in a news release Friday. “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.”

[Click here to watch MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl’s video address]

Competition guidelines for the other sports deemed ‘higher risk’ — volleyball, boys soccer and girls swimming and diving (Lower Peninsula) — will be announced by Aug. 19, once the MHSAA gets more input from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office on the progression of the state’s regions still stuck in Phase 4.

Information on scheduling and the format of the spring football season will be announced over the next few months, the MHSAA release said.

“While this is tremendously disappointing, we will do everything possible to provide the best possible experience in the spring while adding football into the calendar,” Uyl said.

The executive director said as recently as Wednesday afternoon’s appearance on “The Huge Show” radio program that the organization wasn’t going to make a decision just to follow along with the numerous cancellations by college conferences, noting — as he has throughout the process — that taking things slowly and one day at a time was the best route.

“There isn’t a downside to waiting and digesting and seeing where things are at. … Just slow things down, and don’t make decisions just because somebody else did. I think you have to look at your own situation, and your own metrics, and your unique spot and just try to navigate it as best as you can,” Uyl said at the time.

The landscape has changed even since that point. 

The Okemos school district announced its decision Thursday to not play the ‘higher-risk’ sports this fall, and Holt made a similar announcement Friday afternoon, joining the Lansing School District, extending the list to five high schools within a 20-minute drive of the MHSAA headquarters opting out of some or all of the fall sports.

Very shortly thereafter, the MHSAA made its own announcement. 

It was an announcement that was met with sadness, but not a tremendous amount of surprise.

“We have had a great game plan. We have prepared well and executed well, and yet we are down at half. The game is not over; we will take some time and regroup. We will finish the game this spring, and we will win!” Andrew Pratley, the president of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association, tweeted out.

“Please be good teammates, and as you tell your team, don’t look to blame anyone. The MHSAA has been fighting the good fight right by our side this whole time. We will put together an amazing spring schedule, and we will give OUR kids a season they deserve. Contine to support one another and your young people. We know they will need us now more than ever. It is an honor to be your president during this historic time, and we will get through this.”

The coach at St. Joseph High School, Pratley also tweeted out his pride in the public sentiments offered up by his own quarterback, his son, Troy Pratley.

“The news that the greatest game on Earth will not be played in the State of Michigan this year is heartbreaking to say the least. Five days ago we put helmets back on our heads on the first day of practice in hopes to finally regain a sense of normality. Unfortunately, that hope came to a close very quickly,” Troy Pratley posted on Twitter. “Luckily, the MHSAA has plans to allow us to play in the spring. Over the next 5-6 months, teams and players will have a choice to make. You either continue to stay stagnant and be content with the progress you have made all summer long. Or you can continue to grow and develop as a player, as a leader and as a team. BE A CHAMPION. You will NEVER get these days back. When that first whistle blows next spring, will you be ready? Will you be able to tell yourself with complete confidence that you gave everything you had all fall and winter long to get where you need to be? We all want to play the game we love, so let’s make it happen. And when the time comes, whenever it is, you better be ready to ball.” 

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Some other reactions from around the state from Twitter:

• “To all of our athletes across the State of Michigan … keep your head up. Better days ahead!” — West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy

• “Grind won’t stop.” — Flint Kearsley quarterback Braylon Silvas

• “As upset as we are about this decision, we are excited to have an opportunity to for our seniors to still get their season!” — Auburn Hills Avondale football Twitter account

• “May have to wait a little longer but #WeWill play again!” — Chelsea football Twitter account

• “The news we’ve been dreading for months. My heart hurts for you. It’s not done. It’s a pause.” — Lake Fenton football Twitter account

• “Wherever. Whenever.” — Swan Valley defensive line coach Joe Pagel Jr. 

• We may have only had a limited summer & five days of practice, but we could not be more proud of our entire Chippewa football community for all fo their efforts during this unprecedented time. We will be back. It’s not the ending, it’s the beginning. Stay strong & stick together!” — Chippewa Valley football Twitter account

• “We can’t control the decisions that others make, but we can control our attitudes/responses to it. It’s a tough loss, but a 24-hour rule is in effect. Get raw emotions out now. Tomorrow we have to figure out what we are going to do to be ready for springball.” — Rochester football twitter account. 

• “Frustration, sadness, and every emotion in between. These 10 weeks have been the best any coach could ever ask for. I know long term, for our program that this helps us, but at the moment, I’m hurt for our boys … We will have a season, we will be champions, just because they tell us it will be in the spring, only delays the inevitable.” — Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes coach Jeff Glynn

• “To all the HS football players in Michigan, I’m sorry your season has been postponed. It’s okay to be upset, but stay together as teammates to support one another as you would during other times of adversity.” — Alma College coach Jason Couch, formerly the co-coach at Romeo High

• “After a great first week of practice the news form the MHSAA cancelling our fall football season is gut wrenching. Our players will need love and support to process this. We WILL overcome this adversity and see it as an opportunity to grow. We WILL be ready come spring.” — Traverse City Central football Twitter account

• “Tough times don’t last … tough people do.” — Mt. Pleasant coach Jason McIntyre

• “Now my heart is broken for all the HS football players in the State of Michigan. Such a special time in your life! Stay strong and take care of one another.” — Northwood University offensive coordinator/QB coach EJ Arnold

• “Michigan HS players I feel your pain, but do not be discouraged! The real Ballers are gonna lock in and use this time to become the best student, and player they can! Once we get back to (football), there will be separation! Prepare for them Lights in the shadows! See you soon” — Northwood University offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Arthur L.A. Ray

• “We stand with the MHSAA and executive director Mark Uyl and are united in providing our wonderful community and its tremendous members of the classes of ’21-’25 the safe, successful and proper season we ALL deserve! MARCH IS MARINER WEATHER. Health and safety to you all!!!” — Marine City football Twitter account

• “Some roads have detours … The Grind doesn’t stop.” — Essexville Garber DL Alex VanSumeren

• “Still following 24 hour rule. Tomorrow, we start on 2021! #controlthecontrollables” — Clare football Twitter account

• “Man … still not sure how to handle this. I feel for our seniors. Keep your heads up. We will bounce back. When adversity hits, hit back harder. Stay strong, stay together. Love this group. #OneAvondale #GoJackets” — Auburn Hills Avondale coach Corey Bell

• “Hard to believe we won’t be on the field this fall. The motto is #WinTheBattle and we’ll win this one too. We will attack the spring with the same enthusiasm we were attacking the fall with. As always, we are #HARTLANDPROUD” — Hartland football Twitter account

• “To be continued …. Spring 2021. There is NOTHING that will break our bond.” — Jenison football Twitter account

• “It’s not about how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up. Hang in there. Believe you will be back on the field this spring doing what you have worked so hard for. You deserve a season, we’ll do everything we can to make it happen.” — St. Clair Shores Lake Shore superintendent Dr. Joseph DiPonio

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RELATED READING:

College cancellations won’t force MHSAA’s hand, executive director Mark Uyl says; ‘Don’t make decisions just because somebody else did’ (Aug. 12)

Lansing School District cancels fall extracurricular activities, including athletics (Aug. 7)

MHSAA Representative Council gives thumbs-up to on-time start for lower-risk fall sports, tables decision on competition for high-risk sports (July 29)

• MHSAA announces plan to begin 2020-21 school year as traditionally scheduled, leaving football (for now) in the fall (July 17)

• For now, plan is still to have fall sports in the fall, MHSAA reassures its membership (July 2)

What does the ‘MI Safe Schools’ return to school roadmap say about high school sports? Here’s a look (July 1)

Gov. Whitmer to MHSAA: Consider moving contact sports back from the fall (June 30)

• New allowance from from governor’s office doesn’t change much: Schools allowed to resume sports activities prior to end of 2019-20 school year (June 12)

• MHSAA updates guidelines, allowing northern Michigan schools to move workouts indoors starting Wednesday (June 9)

• MHSAA adjusts to curveball of early lifting of stay-at-home order, amends guidance doc for reopening sports  (June 2)

• Gov. Whitmer lifts stay-at-home order early, providing increasing clarity on ‘when’ high school sports can resume (June 1)

• MHSAA releases ‘Guidance for Opening School Sports’ document, outlining a roadmap of ‘how’ high school sports can resume in Michigan (May 29)

• Friday’s roadmap from MHSAA will give ‘how’ school athletics will return, but maybe not ‘when’: ‘We still can’t rush this’ (May 28)

• MHSAA gives schools heads up that ‘Guidance for Opening School Sports’ is coming next week (May 22)

• Q&A with MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl, after Friday’s decision to cancel remaining 2019-20 sports seasons (April 3)

• MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl explains agonizing decision to cancel remainder of winter and spring seasons; ‘My heart absolutely breaks for kids in the class of 2020’ (April 3)

• MHSAA officially cancels spring and winter sports, putting an end to the 2019-20 athletic year (April 3)

• Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces closure of Michigan schools for remainder of 2019-20, stipulates K-12 sports are suspended ‘while state of emergency … is in effect’ (April 2)

• With Gov. Whitmer reportedly set to close Michigan schools for remainder of academic year, can cancellation of high school sports be far behind?  (March 30)

• ‘What now?’ and ‘What next?’: A look at how Michigan’s prep athletes are coping with the ‘pause’ of the postseason, and what it might theoretically take to ‘unpause’ (March 17)

• MHSAA extends halt of athletic activities to include practices, scrimmages until at least April 5(March 13)

• MHSAA puts postseason on pause due to concerns over COVID-19 (March 12)

• UPDATED: MHSAA postseasons impacted by coronavirus; games put on pause, postponed indefinitely (March 11)