The MHSAA Representative Council approved the on-time start of winter sports. Pictured, wrestlers file into Ford Field for the 2019 individual state finals.

The MHSAA Representative Council approved the on-time start of winter sports. Pictured, wrestlers file into Ford Field for the 2019 individual state finals.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

Local coaches talk upcoming winter sports season

By: Zachary Manning | C&G Newspapers | Published November 5, 2020

METRO DETROIT — As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to put pressure on high school sports in the state, the Michigan High School Athletic Association Representative Council has confirmed the on-time start of winter sports.

Last year, the winter sports season was cut short, with some sports being able to complete the season, while others were left without champions.

But, for now, the season will go on as planned with restrictions still in place. Face coverings must be worn by athletes competing in basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey and wrestling.

They are not required for athletes practicing and competing in bowling, gymnastics, skiing, and swimming and diving, which allow for appropriate social distancing. However, face coverings are required for athletes not involved in active participation.

Furthermore, there will be a maximum of four teams allowed in competitive cheer, gymnastics, swimming and diving, and wrestling matches.

Bowling and skiing competitions will be restricted to a maximum of 72 competitors at one event. There are no restrictions for basketball and ice hockey, as both sports can only have two teams compete at one time and may only play one game per day.

The council has approved an allowance of two spectators per participant to begin the season.

“The Council believes it is safer to begin winter practices on time and keep athletes in school programs where safety precautions are always in effect,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said in a prepared statement. “With the vastly different circumstances faced by schools in different regions all over the state, an on-time start still allows schools to decide when they feel most comfortable beginning activity — and allows all of them to slowly ramp up their frequency of activity and numbers of spectators attending competitions.”

With the season set to begin, there is a cautious optimism among coaches. Everyone wants to see the season through after what happened last season.

Now that there are strict rules in place, getting everyone on the same page is the goal. No matter what they have to do, teams just want the opportunity to play.

“When the MHSAA reported that, we were ecstatic. Our kids were pretty excited about it, too,” Roseville boys basketball coach Hassan Nizam said. “Being two weeks away from practice with cases rising all over the state and all over the country, we’re just praying and crossing our fingers that what the MHSAA reported stays as is.”

With close-contact sports, mask wearing has become a big topic of discussion. It’s obviously a different experience than normal, and getting used to it will take time.

However, teams know that remaining safe is the No. 1 goal of the MHSAA and the participating schools.

“I think the biggest change or challenge will be educating the girls about the social distancing, sanitizing and mask wearing during practices and in games as it pertains to basketball. During the workouts, the girls have done a great job,” Rochester High girls basketball coach Bill Thurston said.

In a sport like wrestling, there are many questions as to how wearing a mask will go during a match. No one knows quite what to expect until the action gets underway.

Warren Woods Tower wrestling coach Greg Mayer said, to his understanding, masks will be treated in the same respects as headgear during a match.

“If it comes off during a match, they’re not going to stop a match at a crucial point or anything like that,” Mayer said. “When there’s a stop in action, then they’ll adjust and fix and go from there.”

Like fall sports, there hasn’t been much of a practice period prior to the start of the season, which has forced coaches to rely solely on the players’ individual work.

Grosse Pointe South hockey coach Paul Moretz said it will take time for his group to get a feel for each other and get in the swing of things after such a long time off.

“Of all sports, I think hockey was probably most affected,” Moretz said. “It’s not like you can just go out and practice hockey anywhere. To not be able to be on the ice was extremely difficult. I think our group did a really good job of taking it upon themselves to stay in shape and find creative ways to challenge themselves and continue to improve.”

Royal Oak High girls basketball coach Brian Sopata said it will be great to be back together as a program.

“The pandemic has impacted everyone’s life in so many different ways,” he said. “To be able to be together as a team brings some normalcy to what everyone is dealing with.”