Snow-day decisions on athletics vary from place to place

By: Mike Moore | C&G Newspapers | Published January 14, 2014

METRO DETROIT — The snow flies, the temperature drops and the snooze button gets a slam or two in the morning.

Students of all ages long for the occasional snow day in the winter season.

Some years, those wishes are left empty, but if last week showed us anything, it’s to always expect the unexpected when it comes to Michigan weather.

But with no school, is the game on or off? Should parents rush to get their athletes to practice?

Can basketball and hockey be in session when math and science aren’t?

Yes, and no, depending on who you ask.

“Truthfully, it’s a local decision,” said John Johnson, the MHSAA communications director. “There are so many moving parts when schools are closed, and the weather is so different everywhere, we couldn’t possibly know the logistics of every school.”

Unless it’s an MHSAA tournament contest, the governing body of athletics in the state hands all decisions to the local districts or schools themselves.

“Come tournament time, we try to respect the district policy as much as possible,” Johnson added. “But it really comes down to the calendar and the flexibility there is with dates and venues. In basketball, for example, you have a short window to get districts in, and we have to do that.”

But when last week’s storm hit, when the snow piled up and the temps dipped well below zero, decisions made on athletic events were done so on a place-by-place basis.

Sterling Heights High School Athletic Director Robert Maus, for example, said Warren Consolidated Schools has a Board of Education policy that does not allow its schools to hold practices or games if the school is closed.

This is a rather large contingent of student-athletes, made up of Sterling Heights High, Warren Mott and Warren Cousino.

And others do the same.

“Pretty much, when school is canceled, all events are canceled,” said Lori Stone, athletic director at Berkley High. “We try to treat games the same way, especially if we are traveling somewhere.  We will work with other schools in finding a way to reschedule.”

Bloomfield Hills Marian basketball coach Mary Cicerone wanted her unbeaten team to avoid multiple days off before a Jan. 8 game at league rival Livonia Ladywood, which was also canceled, but “when school is out, they say we can’t practice, either,” she said.

There are some exceptions to the no-school, no-sports policy.

At Troy Athens, for example, when school is closed, so too are sports.

But with the hockey program paying to rent ice by the hour, in contracts agreed to well beforehand, the district has a choice to make an exception to not let paid-for ice sit unused.

“Being an off-campus program, where we have to pay a facility for precontracted ice, the district will verify whether or not we can go,” Athens coach Joe Barone explained. Athens is hardly unique when it comes to this operating mentality in hockey. “Usually, if school is canceled, we’re told to make practice optional, but they do give us permission to hold it. … We all want to get work in, but we have to be adults at the same time. We’re never going to put kids in danger with conditions being whatever they are.”

Madison Heights Bishop Foley uses the same optional approach for all sports.

“Most of the time, if kids can make it, they do their best to show up,” said girls hoops coach Dave Joseph, who held an optional gathering on Jan. 6. “The kids and parents understand this is a decision they have to make. And if they miss, there is no penalty or anything like that.”

Still, others use few rules, and more wait and see, especially this time around.

Rochester Hills Stoney Creek wrestling coach Jeff Smart said the Rochester School District has not allowed athletics on a day where school is canceled.

“It impacts kids who struggle to maintain their weight and might need to lose some weight during practices,” he explained. “My policy is to do what the district allows me to do. I ask the kids to get a workout in on their own — they have been asked to pick up a snow shovel and shovel their neighborhood out to get their workout in.”

Rochester Adams girls basketball coach Fran Scislowicz said some things were being considered, however, when the third snow day in a row was instituted.

“The possibility of getting some work in is being discussed because of how rare this has been,” Scislowicz said on the morning of Jan. 8. “You want kids to be kids and sleep in or sled, or whatever. But I think after three days, coaches and athletes alike are itching to get back together and do something.”

Beverly Hills Country Day Athletic Director Dan MacLean said things are always decided on a case-by-case basis, instead of a blanket rule.

“We make a determination as the day progresses,” he explained. “If it’s decided that the weather has improved enough from the mornings, or roads have been cleared and we can get people here or transport them to a game, we assess the risks and make a decision.”

MacLean said some teams held optional workouts on Jan. 7.

“Weather can change, and road conditions can change so much,” said Steve Graf, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood athletic director. “So we make decisions one day at a time, when it comes to athletics. Sometimes, it’s one hour at a time.”