Michigan allowing high school sports seasons to start next week

An epidemic order prohibiting contact sports through Feb. 21 is ending two weeks early
Maddox Huff celebrates after hitting the game-tying three against Knott Central for Harlan County
Maddox Huff celebrates after hitting the game-tying three against Knott Central for Harlan County(WYMT)
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 1:46 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Michigan’s winter high school sports season will get back on track next week.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will allow contact sports to begin their seasons Monday. That means basketball, hockey, wrestling and competitive cheer can start practicing and competing.

“Michigan continues to be a national leader in fighting this virus, and we must continue using a fact-based approach so we can return to a strong economy and normal day-to-day activities,” Whitmer said. “One of the most important things Michiganders can do is to make a plan to get the safe and effective vaccine when it’s available to you.”

Athletes will be required to wear face coverings whenever possible during practices and competitions unless strict safety measures are in place, including a regular COVID-19 testing regimen.

Attendance at competitions will remain at two people per athlete with a limit of 250 people in venues that seat fewer than 10,000 people or 500 spectators in venues with more than 10,000 seats.

All coaches and athletes will be asked to maintain 6 feet of social distancing whenever possible while they are not competing.

High school basketball, hockey, wrestling and competitive cheer teams in Michigan only have been allowed to conduct non-contact practices up to this week under a state public health epidemic order. That order originally was scheduled to end Feb. 21, but it will end two weeks early.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said she decided to accelerate the start of contact sports based on the state’s declining COVID-19 case rates and improving hospital statistics.

Whitmer said the Let Them Play rally at the State Capitol last weekend and a lawsuit to compel the start of contact sports did not factor into the decision.

“I’ve been very clear throughout this crisis that we are going to follow the science and that’s what we will continue to do,” she said.

Let Them Play, an organization advocating for high school athletes, canceled a press conference Thursday afternoon based on the announcement of contact sports can begin soon. The organization has not decided whether to dismiss its lawsuit against Whitmer and Hertel.

“The lack of high school sports has had a negative impact on young people all around this state and we are confident that sports can resume safely with precautions in place,” said attorney Peter Ruddell, who filed the Let Them Play lawsuit. “We will need to review the details of the order issued today to determine the impact it will have on student athletes and their families across the state.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who is Michigan’s chief medical executive, said participation in contact sports presents a higher risk of spreading COVID-19. She encouraged everyone to weigh the risk when they decide whether to take part in their sports.

“Sports that require frequent closeness between players make it more difficult to prevent disease transmission even when mitigation measures are in place, including masks,” Khaldun said. “Even when not required, we urge teams to implement a testing program to protect athletes, coaches and their families.”

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has not announced a revised schedule for the winter sports season. But officials have said they are prepared to launch the basketball, hockey, wrestling and competitive cheer quickly after their receive approval from state health officials.

The new Michigan Department of Health and Human Services epidemic order continues to prohibit venues with close physical contact between people from opening, including water parks. Employees who can work from home should continue to do so.

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