Friday night lights? Starting fall season outdoors a possibility for high school volleyball

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Friday night lights still on during the fall?

It’s still a possibility, but it would be high school volleyball in the state of Michigan instead of football.

While the MHSAA pushed high school football to the spring last week, high school volleyball coaches and players wouldn’t mind playing their sport outside instead of also having it postponed.

Julia Bishop (28) hopes Farmington Hills Mercy will get the chance to defend its Division 1 volleyball state title this fall.

Bloomfield Hills coach Larry Wyatt, who also works with the Michigan Elite travel team, feels this is the time to think outside the box.

“I’ve been training Michigan Elite first and now Bloomfield Hills and we’ve used four grass nets. I’ve been driving all over southeast Michigan and trained 400 or 500 different kids. We just haven’t been indoors and it’s really safe outdoors,” Wyatt said. “I just say we embrace the outdoors and I suggested that to the MHSAA, that we play the first month outdoors and then when the numbers are low go inside. I’m ready to go anywhere, indoors or outdoors, and I just think we have to think outside the box since it’s such a unique year. Bloomfield Hills is ready to play outdoors for the first month or all the way until Oct. 31.

“We can play outdoors. Sure, it’s not indoors so we do have the wind but that will be unique too. Playing on the grass would be fine, but now that there’s no football we could very easily put sport court on the turf, put the lights on and play volleyball under the lights at night, outdoors and safe.

“It’s real easy to do. I have outdoor nets which you fill up with ropes, you fill buckets with cement and put a hook in there, and now you have a way to hold the net up and you’re playing outdoors. We’ll play on the turf, the grass. Our kids are just ready to play.”

Michigan State-bound setter Julia Bishop of Farmington Hills Mercy wants to play her senior year this fall. She feels players throughout the state will be joining their club teams this winter and will stay with them through the summer.

Bishop helped Mercy win the Division 1 state championship last season and is considered the front-runner to win the title of Miss Volleyball.

“I sure hope we play. We’re doing outdoor practice until we get the OK to play inside," Bishop said. "I don’t care if we play our matches outside, too. Let’s improvise so we can have the season. I want to still be able to play with the girls."

Bishop practiced with the Michigan Elite program as well as her high school team outdoors. And she would love playing outdoors under the lights on Friday nights since there will be no football.

“Not a lot of people would be able to say they did that, so that would be cool,” Bishop said. “When we practice outdoors, we just play on the grass and put a few nets up and that kind of thing. A sport court would be kind of cool because it still would be like an indoor experience, but now you have the outdoor conditions so you’d have to adjust to the weather, like the wind and sun. It would be a neat experience.”

Adjust. Improvise. That’s something Saline coach and sixth grade teacher Emileen Palka has been doing for several months now. She was originally supposed to get married May 1 before pushing it back to Sept. 3 due to COVID-19.

“Having to postpone my wedding once and almost a second time on top of school and teaching and volleyball has been quite a challenge for sure,” Palka said. “We just had to adjust and make it happen. It’s been crazy where you can’t really predict for the future.”

It’s impossible to predict the future with the virus in play.

“We have been doing the grass field practice and I’d definitely be up for some sort of start to the season on grass or outside just to keep it in the fall because I know the all the girls are excited just being on the grass together. You could just tell the difference from being cooped up all spring,” Palka said. “We’ve been really preparing, and we’ve had a great turnout. I’d love to have a season in the fall, but right now we’re going day by day.”

When asked of the possibility of playing Friday nights under the lights, like her father Joe Palka has been used to in guiding Saline’s football team, Emileen replied: “Oh, I definitely could see that happen, especially with high school football being postponed until spring time. We would love the opportunity if we’d have the chance to set up sport courts and play under the lights. It would be a unique experience."