By DOUG DONNELLY
LANSING – Whiteford high school students and parents made a strong reprensentation Saturday at the #LetThemPlayMI rally on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building.
The rally drew a crowd estimated at more than 2,000 as student-athletes, coaches, administrators, parents and fans from across the state gathered on a 20 degree day to advocate for the return of winter sports like basketball, wrestling and competitive cheerleading.
Monroe County had a strong showing with State Sen. Dale Zorn, #LetThemPlay organizer Jayme McElvany of Milan and Whiteford’s Cole Giesige among the speakers.
“Our minds have been toggled with, our emotions toyed with, and our feelings of hope continuously built up and then quickly destroyed,” Giesige said. “We have done everything our governor has asked, we have masked up, socially distanced and withstood all her executive orders. Her decisions to postpone us any longer makes us feel like she does not care about our mental or emotional health. She is hurting us in more ways than she knows.”
Sen. Zorn introduced a resolution last week that urges Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to re-start winter sports. He was one of the first speakers at Saturday’s rally. He said kids just want a chance to compete – and they are willing to do it safely.
“They don’t understand why their high school experience, their lives, and potential scholarships have been blocked without being explanation,” Zorn said.
Throughout the crowd, athletes from just about every local school held signs, proudly wore letter jackets and cheered when speakers urged Gov. Whitmer and state health officials to “let them play.”
Giesige spoke about midway through the three-hour event, backed by some of his teammates and classmates from Whiteford.
Here’s a copy Cole’s prepared speech:
“Good afternoon and hello my name is Cole Giesige. I am a junior, three-sport athlete at Whiteford High School.
“Last year my sophomore baseball season was cancelled due to the newness and uncertainty of the virus, which was understandable. Unfortunately, today I stand before you still unable to play the sports I love.
“As we moved on to football we had many mini breaks where I was grateful to play every moment. Once we thought we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel we were unexpectedly shut down again with no information about how we were to proceed.
“Yet here we are, still practicing social distancing, running with masks and taking precautions to proceed and it seems to be a spiral we can’t get out of.
“We are the only state who has not been scheduled a start date, with many other states already playing without masks. For some of us we can walk two miles into another state such as Ohio, and see our friends playing while we are stuck with no way to go on and compete.
“This just makes us feel sad, disappointed, jealous, and beyond upset. This impacts us athletes more than anyone could ever imagine.
“For many people sports is an outlet, a way to express themselves. For others it is a hobby that they love to do with their friends. For some, sports are motivation to continue to do well in school and maintain a consistent GPA.
“Athletes that wish to proceed into a higher level of competition like college are missing out on recruitment. You may think that other states have it as bad as us or that their athletes can relate to us, but they simply cannot. They are actually playing while we are here asking why we are allowed to practice if we cannot even play.
“Our minds have been toggled with, our emotions toyed with, and our feelings of hope continuously built up and then quickly destroyed.
“Practices are hard now, it can be so hard to motivate yourself when there is nothing to practice for. There are no games coming up so why practice if there is no way to show your skill.
“We are so grateful to be in school and some sense of normalcy, we would now love to move on and finish the race to compete once again. We have done everything our governor has asked, we have masked up, socially distanced and withstood all her executive orders. Her decisions to postpone us any longer makes us feel like she does not care about our mental or emotional health.
“She is hurting us in more ways than she knows. Us athletes are mentally and emotionally broke at this point.
“So please, everyone, do not stop fighting now, we are almost to the end of the tunnel, please stay strong and join the fight to let us play.”