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Online petition aims to have Michigan high school football played this fall

David Goricki
The Detroit News

There is a petition out in circulation to "Bring Michigan Football Back" after the MHSAA announced last week it was pushing the high school football season from fall to spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The petition seeks 35,000 signatures to show the MHSAA that parents, coaches, players and fans still want football played in the fall. The numbers topped 27,000 and were climbing Tuesday afternoon.

Damon Payne signed the petition Tuesday morning because he wanted his son, five-star defensive tackle Damon Payne Jr., to have the opportunity to play his senior year at Belleville before moving on to play his college ball at Alabama.

Belleville football coach Jermain Crowell

“I’m disappointed, especially since you watched those kids go through hell week and you know they’re going toward a goal. It’s their senior year and Damon really wanted to try to bring a state championship to Belleville with his teammates,” Payne said.

“There are a lot of seniors that came in together, a lot of great seniors like Deion Burks, Mook (Darryl Johnson), Christian (Dhue-Reid), JB (Jamari Buddin), Ramier (Lewis). All those guys came in together with Damon and they want to leave it all the field and then go to college.

“Yes, I thought we were going to play this fall. They were still practicing like they were playing. We’re still holding out hope actually because at the end of the day we have a lot of seniors that need this season to culminate their career and hopefully get some attention drawn toward them to get a college scholarship, not for my son, but for guys like Christian and other guys he came in with. If they don’t play this fall, signing day will be over with (in December), so I don’t know how many scholarships will be available and of course the players talk about that amongst each other.”

More: No high school football a bitter pill for Michigan coaches, players

And while elite level players like Buddin (Penn State), Burks (Purdue) and Payne have locked in their college choices, the same can’t be said for Lewis, Johnson and Dhue-Reid.

Lewis has offers from Michigan, Mississippi, Iowa State and Kansas, but the coaches at those schools will definitely want to see senior film before making decisions on him.

Johnson has offers from Western Michigan and Kent State, but Dhue-Reid, who has started since his freshman year, is still without an offer despite throwing for 6,560 career yards and 90 touchdowns, including 5,200 yards and 71 TDs the last two years.

Former Michigan State softball player Tammie Watters also signed the petition. Her son, Brenson Watters, will be a freshman at Rochester Adams.

“I think for mental reasons and social well-being particularly I think the boys should be playing sports,” Watters said. “I think if casinos and strip clubs have any business being open then these boys by all means can play their sports. I don’t want it pushed to the spring because my son also plays in a high-level travel ball team (Motor City Hit Dogs) and I don’t want him to have to pick between baseball and football if it comes down to it.”

So what has Brenson been doing since Friday’s shutdown of football?

“He has a good group of boys who still get together, run some sprints and routes and do some work together," Watters said. "They try to have that focus and that brotherhood, but it’s just not the same being with your full team."

More: Gov. Mike DeWine allows high school sports in Ohio to continue amid pandemic

Belleville football coach Jermain Crowell was at the field Tuesday morning, walking 2 miles on the track instead of overseeing practice.

“I watched a high school game in Utah a couple of days ago, so there are other states that are doing it. Like Ohio, I’m just curious if they’re going to shut down as well, the same with Indiana,” said Crowell, who has dropped from 287 pounds to 249 through exercise and diet since the pandemic started back in mid-March, noting he had a collapsed lung back in 2012 when he was defensive coordinator at Detroit Cass Tech and was doing all the right things to prevent himself from catching COVID. “This was our best team and we didn’t have any incidents, didn’t have any time where I had to suggest that someone go get tested. I was encouraged by that and now I’m disappointed.

“If we can’t do it now when it’s warm, I just don’t understand what’s the thinking of how we’re going to do it in the spring. They’re talking March, April and we’re in Michigan so there will still be snow and we’ll be dealing with flu, colds and all of those can be mistaken for symptoms for COVID. I thought we just would push the season back a couple of weeks. If this is the new reality, at what point in time do we adjust to the new reality because COVID is not going anywhere, there’s no cure in sight. The best we can do is try to protect ourselves like we were doing.

“I really wanted to let this team cut loose. To have Christian (Dhue-Reid) for four years and not have him have a chance to play his senior year (before signing day) is a big blow. Now, I have to use a lot of my connections to just showcase where he’s at and what he’s doing in workouts. He has a pretty good resume on the field, but the senior year is the payoff year. Same with Ramier who has really worked hard during the offseason and this is the first year where I can say his work ethic and mentality has caught up with his size and potential. He’s not able to put that on film to show people. Not only has he missed the season, but he’s missed camp season, too.”

Crowell said he will be watching and learning from other states, as well as watching his own school work with COVID in play.

“I’m watching Indiana close, watching Tennessee close. This is the first week of football for a lot of schools,” Crowell said. “I’ll be watching how the schools open up too because we have an option of in school and out of school at Belleville. I’m like ‘Wow, I don’t know how many folks will take the opportunity to have their kids be in school.’ I know our teachers don’t seem to be too happy about it. I can’t say all the teachers. We have an option of online learning or opt out and come to class. I’m curious to see what numbers look like for folks who want to come to school.”

More rulings to come

Henry Klimes is entering his 30th year as head soccer coach at Northville and feels the season should open up later this month.

Northville is set to host Livonia Stevenson on Saturday afternoon.

“I saw a video last night with (MHSAA Executive Director) Mark Uyl and they made it sound like on the 19th they were going to give a decision on the sports that are inside. For example, volleyball and swimming and then the moderate sport of soccer,” Klimes said.

More: Starting fall season outdoors a possibility for high school volleyball

So what are Klimes’ feelings on the MHSAA’s upcoming decision?

“I have two,” Klimes said. “I really think Mark Uyl wants to play and make this thing work because they can’t move everything to spring since it’s logistically impossible. And then I have that conspiracy feeling like they knew from the get-go they weren’t going to play (football), so instead of telling everybody right away they went slowly so not everybody would get so upset. So they got one group mad for a while, let it simmer down, cancel another sport, let people get mad. Then it simmers down and a week later another sport. I’m thinking it could also be that way.

“I understand the football deal. Every play seven guys on the line face-to-face, every tackle there’s five or six guys wrapped up so I get it. Soccer is not like that, volleyball is not like that, swimming is not like that, so these kids should be able to play.”

Klimes feels his team has been safe.

“Everyone has a mask on. Once we go cardio they are allowed to take their masks off, coaches have their masks on,” Klimes said. “When we go for our water breaks I do them in pods so there’s not all 20 guys. We do the best we can. We’ve made our cuts and now we’re ready to rock and roll.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com