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MHSAA's Mark Uyl: Data supports return of winter contact sports

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Mark Uyl, Michigan High School Athletic Association executive director, wants Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state health department officials to take a look at the data, feeling it is more than enough evidence to allow the winter season for contact sports to begin competition.

Uyl and the MHSAA announced Jan. 14 that contact practice would be allowed on Feb. 1 with games to follow on Feb. 4, but Whitmer announced last Friday that winter contact sports, including boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey, wrestling and competitive cheer, must maintain non-contact through Feb. 21.

Winter high school sports in Michigan such as boys basketball can't return to full contact until after Feb. 21.

The MHSAA fall season was completed this past weekend with the state football championship games decided at Ford Field. Earlier in the month, girls volleyball, girls swimming and diving and 8-player football championships were completed as well.

The MHSAA sent out a release on Wednesday that the Representative Council of the MHSAA reaffirmed its commitment to play winter sports when current restrictions are lifted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

And, Uyl hopes that it happens before Feb. 21, saying in the press release: “Each week, we see hundreds of examples of children and families competing in non-school competition, both in-state and out-of-state. This not only is in violation of current MDHHS orders, but sending all of these families into different states will only become an impediment to getting students back in school fulltime.

“But we can contribute to students returning to in-person learning by allowing MHSAA member schools to begin full activities, participating locally and against more local competition, and under the guidance of trained, professional educators.”

Uyl said he has had more communication with the MDHHS in the past few days than in the past few months with the change in leadership. Robert Gordon resigned as the MDHHS director over the weekend. Whitmer named her former deputy, Elizabeth Hertel as Gordon’s successor.

Uyl said on The Huge Show on Wednesday afternoon that winter contact sports had begun in 38 states, including border states Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Uyl said he feels it should be safe for student-athletes in Michigan to compete in contact sports when looking at recent data from the recently completed fall sports season. All four sports were allowed to complete their seasons because those teams took part in the MDHHS rapid testing pilot program.

“We feel like our message is really resonating right now, that all of the data that we’ve talked about for months, really going back to August and highlighting all of our fall teams, both indoor and outdoor, contact and non-contact, were able to compete each week at a rate of 95%-plus,” Uyl said.

“With the MDHHS and their pilot-testing program we were able to get fall sports completed. We’ve been able to talk about the fact that 5,300 individuals were part of that pilot testing program, of that 5,300 individuals, 57 had a positive test during the month of the pilot program which is 1%.

“The last time that we got updated numbers from Health and Human Services we had completed almost 30,000 of those rapid tests and that was with a negativity rate of 99.8%, so again you’re talking three sports, two of which were exclusively indoors. I can tell you that talking to a lot of the football finalists at Ford Field over the weekend that many of their practice days, because of the weather, had to move inside and so certainly the detail from the pilot program is resonating.”

Uyl said he understands why things were shut down in November since the numbers had increased in positive cases, but that's currently not the case.

“Folks need to understand that going back to November, other states are currently playing winter contact sports as of this week, there are 38 other states around the country who are doing this and our three boarding states in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, they have been practicing and competing in winter sports going back all the way to Dec. 1," Uyl said.

“If you just look at those three states as well as Michigan, you look at where our COVID data where on Nov. 15 and you look at what the COVID data is a little more than two months later and in all four states, the COVID data thankfully is in a much better position than what it was in mid-November.

“In Michigan, we haven’t been doing winter contact sports and our numbers over that time, daily new cases per 100,000 went from 67 back in mid-November to where we’re now at 21 today. The positive test rate back in November 13.5 to today 6.1, all very encouraging metrics. You look at those same numbers in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and their numbers are down as well, so the argument that indoor contact winter sports are somehow increasing the numbers in our three bordering states and across the other 35 states that are fully participating in winter sports, the data is not suggesting that there is that spike.”

Uyl will continue to push the information to the decision-makers in the days ahead. He said coaches, players and their parents will also do what they can to get the season started.

“I know that in both the House and the Senate (on Thursday), they have committee hearings scheduled in both chambers of the legislature to where I know dozens of coaches and kids and parents and families are going to be able to talk about their experiences and frustrations, so it’s just a matter of us continuing to push the information, to push the data and try to get that in the hands of making the decisions right now," Uyl said.