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Cass Tech coach Wilcher: 'MHSAA should have just canceled the whole thing'

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Thomas Wilcher is one of the premier coaches in high school football, has directed Detroit Cass Tech to a 119-20 record the last 11 years, including Division 1 championships in 2011, ’12 and ’16.

Wilcher and his staff have done their best job fighting through the COVID-19 pandemic this season, going from 7-5 a year ago to 9-0 and a No. 2 ranking in The Detroit News Super 20. Cass Tech was set to play No. 1 Belleville for the regional title on Nov. 20, then Jan. 2, but the game both times were halted due to the virus.

Wilcher believes it’s time the MHSAA shuts down the season, but he’ll follow his players’ decision on the subject of playing when the MHSAA allows them to get back on the field.

Thomas Wilcher feels it’s time the MHSAA shuts down the season, but he’ll follow his players’ decision on the subject of playing when the MHSAA allows them to get back on the field.

Wilcher wants to be the adult in the room and stand up for his principles. He feels his players’ safety is not being looked out for and he doesn’t want his kids being guinea pigs in a COVID rapid test project between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the MHSAA.

Cass Tech, the PSL champion, last played Nov. 13, a 42-8 win over Woodhaven for the district championship. Then, Gov. Whitmer put in place a three-week pause that weekend, then added a 12-day session as the first pause was close to expiring.

In all, Wilcher and his staff didn’t see Cass Tech’s players for five weeks prior to the MHSAA letting them get back to practice on Monday. Then, the MHSAA shut football down again on Tuesday, stating in a press release that fall teams taking part in the pilot program are expected to receive rapid result antigen tests and more instruction by Dec. 29, adding that the MDHHS on Dec. 28-29 will be conducting webinars to train school personnel who will be involved in the testing process, and once the first tests have been administered on Dec. 30, full team practices could resume.

The MHSAA did not send out a revised schedule for games, but more than likely regional title games would be played Jan. 16, meaning it would be the first time in two months that teams will have played games.

“Looking at the situation I think when you ask someone to sit out over a long period of time and you ask them to get right back into it without time to prepare, where does the level of safety come in or do you care about safety?” Wilcher said.

“We’re not talking about COVID; now physical safety comes into play. We’ve sat out of football longer than when you sit out before you start regular season practice. We are allowed less days to practice than you are before you hit your first game, I know for a fact before your first scrimmage game. It becomes a time when you have to say as an adult, ‘Am I looking out for the kids or what am I doing?’”

Wilcher is worried about his players’ conditioning, as well as their mental health.

“The mental state of the kids is the real determining factor because you had those kids in the summertime saying, ‘Oh, crap we’re not playing,’ and they all went home and did nothing, just buried themselves in TV and gained weight and got out of shape,” Wilcher said.

“Then, they (MHSAA) came back and said, ‘You can play,’ and they come back overweight and everything and you start to get them into shape and then they say, ‘You can’t play,’ then they say, ‘You can play, but it’s in two weeks,’ but the difference was between now and then was that you’re already getting the kids in shape because you have them, so the kids were having fun during the season, then you shut them down again. Then, it starts up, then it gets shut down again.

“For some kids, it’s about business. This is a life-changing sport, football. It’s one of the greatest team sports you can play. They made a bond together, that 'this summer we’re going to go through this together,’ and it just deteriorates because they feel they are letting one another down because they can’t be there for each other, and there’s a time as an organization you have to look out for the welfare of all.”

And then there’s the fact that Cass Tech’s team will be far different than a month ago with center Raheem Anderson headed to Michigan Jan. 16, cornerback Kalen King and his twin brother linebacker Kobe King to Penn State, tackle Terrence Enos to Pittsburgh and defensive tackle Doran Ray and defensive end Clarence Wilson to Toledo.

“I feel like the MHSAA should have just canceled the whole thing, just because of safety reasons and the emotional stress that it’s leaving on kids with so much uncertainty,” Anderson said. “We had two practices (after a five-week layoff) and it was real exciting to be back, we’re looking forward to playing and then …”

Kobe King

Said Wilcher: “What I can do, who can participate I will let them participate, but if you can’t participate in a team sport it breaks down the structure of the team and it breaks down the integrity of the team. Even though you can put other kids in, it also breaks down the safety of the team because you don’t have the proper time to prepare. You’re talking about two months … two months!

“My course of action is to follow whatever guidelines that the state prefers us to do, but my course of action as an adult is that I have to look out for the welfare of my team and the welfare of the kids. I am going to try to prepare the kids if they want to play.

“We have to understand the guidelines of what it takes to prepare them for a sport. We have guidelines that we must meet to prepare for a sport before we begin practice. Our we meeting those same guidelines?”

Wilcher also has strong opinions about the pilot program.

“I don’t really want to be a part of a project,” Wilcher said. “I feel right now that we’re a part of a project, like, ‘Let’s see if we can make this work.’ How do you get three tests taken in a week, and then if you have to take three tests taken in a week and you can’t start until three days after you take the first test, how many days do you get before you play your first game? When do you start the season? The season could be pushed into February, so are we looking for the welfare of the child, the safety of the child? I don’t think so.

“Our kids want to play. Our kids love to play. Our kids are challenged and driven in sports. A lot of times they love the opportunity to play as a team, it brings camaraderie, it helps to produce that family atmosphere, but yet still we get denied, not by our lack of ability, but the situation we’re dealt with and we don’t have a football facility to help us out during the cold winter months.

“Why don’t you just congratulate those kids for playing during COVID and making it to the state regionals and say, ‘Hey, you 16 teams, congratulations for being regional representatives and we will send you a plaque,’ and just end the season. Is the state looking out for the welfare of the child or does the state want to try to work out a protocol testing pilot with our kids? Our kids are going to be the guinea pigs at what cost? That’s where I step in as a coach and say I don’t like it, but if my kids want to play and want to do it, they can, but I don’t like it at all.”

Belleville Coach Jermain Crowell echoed Wilcher’s words.

“For what it’s worth Belleville would like to play in the spring,” Crowell said. “In the spring we actually will have a decent amount of time to condition and prepare. Right now, we stop playing for eight weeks, then we just strap up and go?

“I appreciate the effort to finish. I truly do. Maybe, we need to ask the teams still in it what they would like to do. I’m no quitter, but I’m not liking this. I’ll repeat I don’t want to cost my kids an opportunity to win a state championship, but this isn’t fair to the coaches and players.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com