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Whitmer: MHSAA should consider shuffling sports, including football to spring

David Goricki
The Detroit News

High school football in the spring and track and field in the fall?

Well, that could well happen if Michigan High School Athletic Association officials seriously listen to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s advice.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking the Michigan High School Athletic Association to move football to the spring season.

With the start of high school practice a little more a month away, Whitmer talked Tuesday afternoon on the subject of high school sports as part of the Michigan Safe Start Plan.

Close-contact sports in the fall, especially football, along with other such sports as soccer and volleyball -— which is played inside — could be pushed to the spring with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full force and looking like it's going to remain through the fall.

“In Phase 4, students, teachers and staff have to use proper hygiene techniques before and after every practice, event or other gathering,” Whitmer said. “Every participant needs to confirm that they are healthy and without any symptoms prior to the event. All equipment needs to be disinfected before and after use.

“Spectators are allowed to take part, provided that facial coverings are used, and they observe 6 feet of social distancing at all times. The Michigan High School Athletic Association and the National Federal of State High School Associations are continuing to develop guidance for how sports can be played safely, and so we’re calling on schools to follow those guidelines.

“I’m also calling on the Michigan High School Athletic Association to consider postponing fall sports that have the impossibility of social distancing that’s a part of them; consider moving those to the spring and running some of the more individualized sports like track and field or tennis or golf to the fall. I anticipate a decision coming from them somewhere around July 20 to 25. That’s what they’ve indicated.”

Whitmer said during an interview Monday morning with 97.1 The Ticket on the Jamie & Stoney Show that some states were considering flipping seasons, so making football and more contact sports in spring.

When contacted Monday afternoon, MHSAA spokesman John Johnson said the flip-flop of sports season has been talked about since the pandemic put a halt to the winter sports season in mid-March, also resulting in the cancellation of all spring sports.

“That’s been one of the things that has been discussed during the whole conversation and everything is still on the table," Johnson said Monday, "but we can’t comment until we hear from the governor."

Now Johnson and the rest of the MHSAA staff will be busy in the weeks ahead with big decisions to make.

Dearborn Fordson football coach Walker Zaban has been having conditioning with some of his players the past couple of weeks. He talked about how conditioning has gone, along with the possibility of the season this fall.

“We’re getting mixed messages. You’re told you can have so many people, then that you don’t have to wear masks, but you have to keep your distance,” Zaban said. “When you talk to people and tell them you don’t have to wear masks, then they feel comfortable getting closer to each other. And, when you get kids, even adults, and they're going to communicate with each other, they’re going to get closer when they talk.

“For the most part, we’ve done a pretty decent job, but there’s times when you tell the kids to go get some water they congregate with each other, so you have to yell at them to keep their distance. You want to keep them safe.

“This thing (opening things up) was very encouraging and then discouraging because some of these colleges are starting to close, cancel their season or getting more kids testing positive so it puts some doubt in your head. I’ve had so many people ask me if we’ll have a season and I’ve told them, 'Honestly, everything is up in the air. We’re taking it one day at a time. We can only do what we do today, and whatever happens later we’ll deal with that then.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com