TRI-CITY AREA — The Michigan High School Athletic Association submitted to its member schools a series of updated timelines and recommendations to guide the return to sports, which has been suspended since mid-March due to the potential spread of COVID-19, last Friday.
The state’s “Safer at Home” was to run through June 12, but has since been lifted. There can be no use of any school facilities, whether it be indoor or outside, Schools may not offer any organized on-site athletic activity, including conditioning or competition, until the current stay at home order expires or is lifted by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. When the “Safer at Home” order expires or is lifted, the return to activity recommendations may be implemented locally by school district leadership, provided the district declares its facilities open to students and staff and the 2019-20 school year has ended for that district (based on the last originally scheduled school day).
The “MHSAA/NFHS Guidance for the Re-Opening School Sports” is based primarily on direction provided by the MHSAA and National Federation of State High School Association’s (NFHS) Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, in addition to reopening plans provided by the Michigan and federal governments as well as recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Concepts from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee also were consulted.
The MHSAA/NFHS plan recommends a three-step process to return to full athletic participation, and for each step outlines actions in five major areas: pre workout/contest screening of athletes and coaches for sickness, limitations on the number of participants who may be involved in a gathering, proper cleaning for facilities, the use of equipment during activity and best practices for keeping participants safely hydrated. The plan also places sports into categories based on risk transmitting the virus (low/moderate/high) with adjusted return to activity steps based on that level of risk.
“The MHSAA and its Representative Council believe restarting school sports is essential to the physical and mental well-being of students, and the guidelines outlined for schools today provide the ‘How’ for schools to return to athletics when they have received the go ahead from state and county health officials,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl commented. “We are thankful for our state government, state education and health departments our medical partners and the NFHS for their guidance these last few months and we will continue to follow and pass on their recommendations as we prepare our schools to bring back this part of student life that’s been sorely missed,” he noted.
Currently, the only activity allowed continues to be individual outdoor recreational activity including walking, hiking, running, etc. (as announced in the executive Order 2020-96). If this type of conditioning activity takes place with more than one person present it must be in groups of fewer than 10 people with social distancing followed and the activity can’t involve school coaches, be school sponsored or occur at any high school facility (indoor or outdoor) until at least June 13.
Voluntary virtual (not in person) communication and instruction from coaches to any number of students is permitted under MHSAA rules in all sports during the summer.
“The concept is that students can continue to individually condition themselves (by walking, hiking, running) but there should be no organized group activity by any person until at least the date the “Safer at Home” guidelines expire,” Uyl said.
“We must all continue to do our part to flatten the curve in hopes of increased activity over the coming weeks,” he stated.
“Again it is important to note this document addresses ‘How’ schools can return to activity, the decision on ‘When’ schools can return to activity will be done under the direction of state government and health department officials. As government actions impact this timeline, the MHSAA will continue to update all involved.”
The return to activity guidelines are aimed to provide direction for schools as they continue to limit potential exposure to respiratory droplets, which is the primary avenue for transferring COVID-19. Specifically, the MHSAA/NFHS plan addresses social distancing, use of cloth and other face coverings, event scheduling and transportation, and the possibility schools may have to break from or completely discontinue activity including competition during the fall or winter because of recurrent outbreaks of the coronavirus.”
School district administrators will determine at which step in the MHSAA/NFHS plan their schools are operating based on the number of people to gather by state medical officials.
The MHSAA has remained in contact with the Governor’s office, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Michigan Department of Education throughout the pandemic in addition to leadership from the state’s superintendents, school principals, athletic administrators and school boards association.
Kevin Kissane has been covering high school sports for the Tri-City Times since 1985. When not standing on a field or court with his camera and notepad, he enjoys golf, travel and family. Kevin is a 1980 graduate of Capac High School, and is also a grad of St. Clair Community College and earned a degree in journalism from Central Michigan University.