Winter Sports gets green light to start Feb. 8

‘If this is what it takes, we’ll make it happen’

By DOUG DONNELLY

ADRIAN – Student-athletes from Whiteford and across Michigan breathed a collective sigh of relief Thursday afternoon as state health officials and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced competition for basketball, ice hockey, wrestling and competitive cheerleading could begin Monday.

After months of being on the sidelines and the allotment of only non-contact practices, these sports will be back next week.

“As excited as we were to get fall started, we’re probably more excited (to start winter),” Michigan High School Athletic Association Executive Director Mark Uyl said in a conference soon after Gov. Whitmer’s announcement. “These four winter sports, it’s really been hard on kids, coaches and communities.”

MHSAA member schools may begin full practice activities in the Winter contact sports of girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey and wrestling on Monday with some precautions to continue limiting the spread of COVID-19. Competition in those four sports also will begin next week, with basketball and hockey able to play Feb. 8 and cheer and wrestling able to compete starting Feb. 12.

Whiteford athletic director Jason Mensing said the Tri-County Conference is looking at its schedule, perhaps just moving forward with the schedule as is and making up the game that would have been played this week. Finalized schedules should be released in the coming days.

Under that scenario, the Whiteford boys could begin Tuesday at home against Sand Creek with the Bobcat girls playing on the road Wednesday at Madison to start the season.

Soon after the announcement, Britton Deerfield announced the Patriots boys basketball team will host Lenawee Chrisitan Monday – the first day competition is allowed.

“The kids are super excited about it,” BD basketball coach Darren Shiels said. “I’d say they were cautiously optimistic. They’ve had the rugged pulled out from under them so many times. They’ve been let down a lot.”

Shiels said his team has run just about every drill possible without contact over the last several weeks.

“There’s only so much passing and dribbling you can do,” he said. “I’m sure Monday night’s game will be a little sloppy. I

Shiels was among the county residents who made the trip to Lansing Saturday to the Let Them Play rally at the state capitol in which thousands gathered to advocate for the re-start of winter sports. The Let Them Play organization filed a suit in a Lansing court Wednesday that called for the suspension of winter sports to end immediately. Gov. Whitmer said during her press conference today that those factors did not play into the state’s decision.

Whether it did or didn’t, Shiels said he’s just happy to see his players with smiles on their faces.

“I’m just happy for the kids that they get a chance to play and that the parents get to come see them,” he said. “That’s huge. The kids have been waiting for this. They deserve this opportunity.”

Those four Winter contact sports have been able to practice since Jan. 16, but only with non-contact activities. MHSAA Tournament dates for all four sports previously were rescheduled into late March and early April to accommodate a later start to the regular season, and those dates appear below. All four Winter contact sports also must participate with some level of masking and/or rapid testing. Basketball players must wear masks during competition while wrestlers will be tested.

All testing will be coordinated between schools and MDHHS or their local health departments. Following are specific precautions and key dates for those contact sports at the high school level. Participants are defined as athletes, coaches and other team personnel active in practice and competition. For the sports detailed below, regular-season contests may be played up until the date of the MHSAA Finals in that sport.

“We had a great practice tonight,” Blissfield coach Ryan Gilbert said Thursday. “I’ve got to give kudos to the girls for sticking it out and holding each other accountable and how they have continued to work. It will truly make them that much better.”

One of Gilbert’s players is senior Morgan Case.

“I can’t even express how excited I am to finally get to play,” Case said. “We have been working so hard, following the rules and now its our chance.”

Athletic directors and coaches across the county began working immediately on revising schedules and getting things in order for the season to start next week.

Hudson Athletic Director Jeremy Beal said the Lenawee County Athletic Association planned to meet Friday to discuss its scheduled and when the best time to start the season is. As of now, league games in basketball are scheduled for Tuesday. He was unsure as of Thursday night if that would remain or not.

“We’ll look at some things and decide what’s best,” he said. “If not Tuesday, we’ll look at Friday or Saturday. Our kids, like everyone else, are excited and ready to go.”

Wrestling is pushed back slightly because of the testing program that will be implemented. Sand Creek and Clinton did that in January as part of the re-start of football season. Beal said its just something that schools with wrestling programs will do.

“It’s new for me, but schools have had to do the testing program so we know its doable,” Beal said. “If this is what it takes for our kids to have a season, we’ll make it happen.”

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