Michigan youth sports teams scramble to put COVID plans in place

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Michigan youth athletes will need to take an extra step — or steps — before they step onto the field or court over the following weeks.

In response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through all youth sports, club and league organizers have been working to ensure that all teams have the ability to “opt in” on the state’s newest testing plan. The plan requires all athletes ages 13-19 playing non-school-associated sports to be tested weekly.

The order, which currently runs from April 2-19, offers three viable options for administering and reporting the tests: Athletes can be tested through a third party, through their school, or clubs can administer and report the tests to the state themselves.

South Oakland County Soccer president Todd Sperl, fourth from left, said the new COVID rules will greatly impact his organization, which has 1,000 youth athletes across 17 travel teams and more than 50 recreation teams.

“The clubs will have to opt in as far as the testing, and if the choose not to, they will no longer be able to participate for those two weeks, and we will drop them from programming,” Michigan State Youth Soccer Association (MSYSA) vice president Anthony Spica told The Detroit News this week.

Todd Sperl, volunteer president of South Oakland County Soccer (SOCS), a private soccer youth soccer club, said last week the new rules will greatly impact his organization, which has 1,000 youth athletes across 17 travel teams and more than 50 recreation teams. 

Sperl said that the sudden announcement has left teams and organizers scrambling to put a plan in place. He has sought guidance from the MSYSA, the club’s state governing body.

“Look at all those kids and all those games. We would try to have a plan,” Sperl said. “Whoever is setting this up doesn’t understand the magnitude of this. I don’t think they went out there to kill youth sports, but we would have to shift games early on. We are not canceling games.”

Sperl said in the last nine months, the club which has games across Metro Detroit, has successfully performed temperature checks and had parents perform self-screenings before practices and games. Players are wearing masks, he said.

“We are anxious to get going and we want to do it right,” Sperl said of the new rules.

In-house testing

SOCS plans to coordinate with the Michigan Safer Sports Testing Program, which falls under the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services umbrella, to carry out in-house testing and will require the help of four to six volunteers “to help us comply with the regulations as efficiently and quickly as possible,” according to a release sent out to the club participants’ families.

In order for a club to administer and report the test themselves, clubs will order test kits straight from the state. Spica confirmed on Wednesday that clubs are not required to pay for the tests; they must simply apply and indicate how many kits are needed. 

The Michigan Safer Sports Testing Program states that organizations must confirm they have the following items to enroll: Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) waiver, personal-protective equipment (PPE) plan, biohazard disposal plan, commitment to testers watching training videos and the ability to comply with reporting requirements.

Clubs are to report their results via the Michigan Safer Sports Testing Program website. 

The option of testing through a local school will be offered on a case-by-case basis, Spica said.

“Some schools won’t do it, but some schools will. I mean, it’s challenging,” Spica said. “Because the schools have to test for their spring sports, right? Some clubs were able to reach out to schools and say, ‘Hey, can we send our club athletes in for testing?’ or whatever. I think some schools have been open to that, and other schools, it’s an overwhelming task.”

Third-party testing center

Athletes who choose to go through a third-party testing center will be required to provide proof of a negative test in order to play.

Because of the timing of Gov. Whitmer’s new rules, some clubs and leagues have yet to begin play. Some leagues have decided to slightly delay their seasons, in the hopes that the rules currently are slated to run through April 19. 

Because of the logistical variance, Spica recommends parents reach out to their child’s club to receive details on its plan as soon as possible.

“This situation has come to us very quickly, so a lot of people are still trying to figure out how we’re putting this in place,” Spica said. “You’d need to get with your club and figure out what your club is doing. Everything with this is kind of a snowball effect: It comes down through the state, the health department, to our state association, to us as a league, down to the clubs, down to the families.

“If a parent says, ‘I don’t want my kid getting tested,’ it’s the club’s responsibility to say, ‘Well then you can’t play. Therefore, until they lift this mandate, your kid won’t be able to participate in anything if you’re not going to go through with the testing every week.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.