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MHSAA moves football to spring

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan High School Athletic Association on Friday moved the football season to next spring but said other fall sports would proceed as scheduled during the coronavirus pandemic.

The move came days after the Big Ten postponed all fall sports and said it hoped to make them up in the second semester.

The MHSAA previously had allowed lower-risk fall sports — golf, tennis, cross country, and swimming and diving — to start. Competition guidelines for soccer and volleyball — moderate-risk sports that were in limbo — and swimming and diving will be announced next week.

Beside football, fall sports in the Upper Peninsula include cross country, boys soccer, girls tennis and volleyball.

MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said the decision to delay football — considered to be a high-risk sport for the spread of the COVID-19 virus due to the amount of face-to-face contact — was made after consulting state health department officials and surveying high schools following the first four days of practice.

“At the end of the day, we did everything we could to find a path forward for football this fall,” Uyl said in a statement. He added:“There is just too much uncertainty and too many unknowns to play football this fall.”

The MHSAA said it will work to limit the overlap of spring football with other traditional spring boys sports. More than 600 football teams were planning to play this fall.

In much of the state, high school volleyball and swimming and diving cannot occur inside under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order closing indoor gyms and pools to limit the virus’ spread. The MHSAA said the governor is expected to issue further guidance on indoor facilities “in the near future.”

More than 34,000 high school students played football in 2019. Football was the one fall sport the Representative Council of the MHSAA categorized as “high” risk.

“There was a survey put out (Thursday) to the athletic directors,” Bear Lake athletic director and MHSAA Representative Council member Karen Leinaar said. “We wanted to get some data from our schools of where they were at and what they were feeling after the first week of practices. When we saw the results of that today, and got some information from the state health department, we needed to make a change. … People were not comfortable with football, being the high-risk sport that it is, and putting that out in front of even schools getting started.

“It just became the right thing to do.”

Leinaar said 600 member schools responded to the MHSAA’s survey within 24 hours and it became apparent it was not in the best interest of anyone in the state to continue.

Football players began practicing Monday.

Traverse City West coach Greg Vaughan, a regional director for the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association, said Friday’s decision did not reflect the sentiment he received while speaking to coaches and ADs from across the state and said he wished the MHSAA would have notified coaches before the release.

“I’m very much concerned about the mental health for our kids,” Vaughan said. “If they don’t have an outlet some way and they’re locked back in their houses … I’m very worried about that.”

Leinaar said Friday was one of the hardest days in her 22 years as an athletic administrator and that the decision to move football did not come lightly.

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