By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Dealt an unexpected blow by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer on January 22, when the expiration of the ban on contact activities in boys’ and girls’ basketball, competitive cheerleading, hockey, and wrestling was extended until Sunday, February 21, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) reaffirmed their commitment to playing these seasons as soon as possible.
During a Zoom video conference on Friday, January 29, the MHSAA’s Representative Council, made up of 19 directors of athletics, principals, and superintendents from throughout the state, announced their plans to continue, when given the clearance to do so.
“Each week, we see hundreds of examples of children and families competing in non-school competition, both in-state and out-of-state,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
“This not only is in violation of current MDHHS orders but sending all of these families into different states will only become an impediment to getting students back in school fulltime.
“But we can contribute to students returning to in-person learning by allowing MHSAA member schools to begin full activities, participating locally and against more local competition, and under the guidance of trained, professional educators.”
Three fall sports – football, girls’ swimming and diving, and volleyball – completed their respective final tournaments in mid-January. These teams could do so by partaking in the MDHHS’ rapid testing pilot program.
Per results released by the MHSAA, a total of 5,376 individuals, which includes student-athletes, coaches, and other team personnel, were tested for the coronavirus (COVID-19), and only 57, or one percent, tested positive at any point in the pilot program.
Nearly 30,000 rapid antigen tests were administered, with 99.8 percent returning negative.
With this irrefutable data, the backlash over the decision to postpone these winter sports further was, expectedly, severe.
Orchestrated by Jayme McElvany, mother of Milan Big Reds junior quarterback Cole McElvany, an organization called “Let Them Play” held a rally at the State Capitol in Lansing on Saturday, January 30, drawing more than 2,000 supporters, which consist of student-athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators, from across the state.
Some Oxfords residents made the approximately 90-mile trip west to voice their support for the organization’s efforts.
This was the third rally “Let Them Play” has held. The first came on August 28, 2020 to protest the postponing of the football, soccer, and volleyball seasons. Accumulating a reported 500 people, this was a success, as Whitmer reversed course six days later and allowed those seasons to proceed.
Presently, “Let Them Play” has said their membership has surpassed 36,000 Michiganders, showing steadily increasing support for their cause.
Rallying does not look like it will be the extent of the organization’s passion, either. According to an MLive article from Josh VanDyke, the group has raised more than $50,000 through a GoFundMe page and retained Lansing attorney Peter Ruddell to pursue legal action if this decision by the MDHHS and Whitmer is not overturned.
Oxford’s Director of Athletics, Jordan Ackerman, who doubles as an assistant principal at the high school, has voiced his support for a return sooner than February 21, as well.
Ackerman’s January 26 statement reads, in part, “I, along with many, are having a challenging time understanding why our student-athletes are unable to practice and compete.
“At Oxford High School and Oxford Middle School, we have conducted practices and workouts in all of our sports since June. We have not had one single case of transmission within our athletic program.
“Additionally, the Oxford Community Schools District has been face-to-face in school since the end of August, only pausing when forced by the Epidemic Orders in November. We have had one single case of transmission in our schools.
“All available data suggests the majority of spread occurs outside of schools and athletic facilities.”
Ackerman’s full, nine-paragraph statement can be found on Page 9 of this week’s Oxford Leader.
By Teddy Rydquist