By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
While many details are still being ironed out, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) took a big step toward moving forward with their scheduled fall athletic plans on May 29.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Safer-at-Home” Executive Order, lifted on June 1, allows schools to re-open athletic facilities the day after the originally scheduled last day of the 2019-20 academic year.
In the case of Oxford High School, June 5 was scheduled as the last day of school, meaning the Wildcats can go ahead and begin preparing for fall athletic activities on Saturday, June 6.
“The MHSAA and its Representative Council believe restarting school sports is essential to the physical and mental well-being of students, and the guidelines outlined for schools today provide the ‘How’ for schools to return to athletics when they’ve received the go-ahead from state and county health officials,” Executive Director Mark Uyl said in the organization’s statement.
“We are thankful for our state government, state education and health departments, our medical partners and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) for their guidance these last few months, and we will continue to follow and pass on their recommendations as we prepare our schools to bring back this part of student life that’s been sorely missed.”
Geoff Kimmerly, the Media & Content Coordinator for the MHSAA, provided further details.
“Right now, we are preparing for fall as usual,” he shared. “We’ve been full bore doing that, doing all things we need to do as far as setting up our schedules and getting our summer rules out there and explained to people.
“Where it’s a little different this year, is with the governor’s order preventing activities in school facilities until the day after the school year ends. Generally, June 1 is our date every year, from the MHSAA’s standpoint. So, summer activities for football and all other fall sports, will start when the governor’s order allows.”
Entering his first season as Oxford’s new coach following his retirement from the National Football League in January, Zach Line thinks this new rule will benefit his team.
“It’s huge,” he began. “Especially when you’re trying to get guys experience, but you don’t want to bring them up (to the varsity team). Maybe it’s a kid who is on the border, might not get a lot of playing time on varsity but it’s a great opportunity for him to be exposed to Friday night lights because it is different. Every level you move up, the speed, the excitement, everything changes.
“The sooner you can expose them to Friday night lights, the more prepared they’ll be when it’s their time to have their number called.”
Line and his staff, while unable to do on-field work yet, have been conducting virtual meetings with their players to prepare them for the 2020 season.
“With us trying to install everything new, we’ve taken advantage of Zoom (a video conferencing software) pretty heavily,” he shared.
“Every Wednesday, we’ll have a team meeting and I like to start it with a speaker. Like last week, we had a speaker talk about the recruiting process, what guys need to be doing. Then we’ll always hit special teams and break up into offense and defense after that.”
Line’s tenure will begin on Friday, August 28 at home against Romeo, the Wildcats’ seventh-straight season-opener vs. the Bulldogs.
Romeo, who has qualified for the MHSAA postseason in sixteen consecutive years dating back to 2004, won last year’s meeting, 41-14.
“Romeo is a great team, well coached, you can see that on the film we’re watching,” Line said.
“That’s what you want, though. You want those type of tests and I think our entire schedule lays out that way, we have a pretty solid schedule. You wouldn’t want it any other way because when you get to the playoffs, the state finals, that’s the type of competition you’re going to see, so might as well get a taste of it in Week 1.”
Members of the Macomb Area Conference’s (MAC) Red Division, the Bulldogs finished 7-3 in 2019, falling to 2021 Northwestern Wildcats quarterback commit Brendan Sullivan and the Davison Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, 35-21.
Oxford will reside in the Oakland Activities Association (OAA) Red Division once again in 2020. The Wildcats will be joined in the six-team division by the Clarkston Wolves, Lake Orion Dragons, Oak Park Knights, Southfield A&T Warriors and West Bloomfield Lakers.
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The MHSAA/NFHS plan calls for a three-phased approach to returning to full participation, with Phase 1 limiting workouts to ten individuals and, in the case of football, should be conducted without contact and without footballs handed or passed between teammates.
When Phases 2 and 3 are implemented will be decided by state and local health officials, as well as school leadership.
Additionally, the plan includes pre-workout Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing for coaches and student-athletes.
During their annual Spring Meeting on May 4, the MHSAA’s Representative Council, made up of 19 school principals and athletic directors from throughout the state, passed two new rules.
The first grants schools 15 summer dates of non-mandatory contact, seven of these dates can be used for 7-on-7 competition against other teams. The second new change, dubbed the “Five-Quarter” rule, will have a more visible impact on the on-field product.
Student-athletes will now be allowed to play in five quarters of football per week, meaning a player could participate in both the varsity and junior varsity games. This rule is effective in boys and girls basketball, as well, allowing players five quarters per day.
“The five-quarter rule is designed to help those programs struggling for numbers, especially at the sub-varsity levels,” Kimmerly said.
“This might allow, say some sophomores, to play two or three quarters with the junior varsity team and come up and be depth on the varsity team for a couple of quarters that week. I think in some areas, teams are going to start playing their sub-varsity games after their varsity games, on Saturdays or even Mondays, I’ve heard.
“That way, if an athlete is only needed for one quarter on Friday, he or she can play all four on Saturday or Monday. Really, it’s to help those programs and I think everyone assumes it’s only for the smaller schools but, at least in the Lansing area, there have been larger schools struggling for numbers at the freshman and junior varsity levels, too. This rule is designed to help allow some of those teams to still exist.”