Pushing to hit play on winter sports, players, parents go before MI House

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With all four kids involved in athletics, Katy Nelson’s family believes school athletics is about more than the outcome on the scoreboard.

“It’s what we do. That’s our excitement and enjoyment,” Nelson said.

Nelson is part of Let Them Play Michigan, a movement with over 33,000 Facebook followers that’s trying to convince the Whitmer administration to ease coronavirus restrictions on high school sports.

“We don’t have time. Winter sports is now,” Nelson said. “We’re just very frustrated. We don’t have more time to lose one more child to any mental illness, suicide or anything.”

After a number of stops and starts that have kept teams from competing, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ current ban on winter contact sports runs through Feb. 21.

Of course, that may change.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told a Detroit TV station Thursday that it’s possible high school winter sports could resume in the coming weeks or even days. It’s all dependent on COVID- 19 numbers.

News 8 reached out to the governor as well. A spokesperson sent a noncommittal statement indicating Whitmer is “optimistic” about moving forward but not providing a timetable.

“COVID-19 has been challenging for so many, from small business owners to parents who want to get their kids back to in-person learning and play sports, this hasn’t been easy, yet this virus is still a genuine threat. COVID-19 is mutating, and that mutation is in Michigan, which is why we must take steps towards re-engagement strategically and watch the data. Governor Whitmer will continue to make data-focused decisions that protect the public health of Michiganders. Governor Whitmer is optimistic that we can take steps towards re-engagement in sports, just like we are doing with indoor dining, and is reviewing with her public health experts the safest steps forward.”

Office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The push to end the pause sooner rather than later continues. Student-athletes, coaches and parents told Lansing lawmakers Thursday that they’re afraid they may not have a season at all. 

“We feel as if we are being punished for something we hate just as much as everybody else,” Coopersville High School senior basketball player Ethan Cody told the Republican-led House Oversight Committee.

Cody repeated concerns about the importance of organized sports for not just the  physical but also mental well-being of student-athletes.

“There is no more stress reliever, there is no more hanging out with your friends without getting yelled at. Instead, now it’s lonely. It’s just you and your thoughts about this sad world,” Cody told lawmakers.

Players, coaches and parents say the governor’s not listening to their numbers, notably the 98% negative test rate as 30,000 student-athletes in Michigan were tested this fall.

When questioned earlier this week about the winter sports pause while allowing bars, restaurants and other establishments to open with capacity limits Monday, the governor defended the move, saying a new player has emerged: COVID-19 variants, including the one that has also prompted the pause of sports at the University of Michigan.

“The current projection are that this will be the dominant variant in Michigan within a couple of months,” Oversight Committee member Rep. David LaGrand said. “We have a vaccine and acting as though we shouldn’t wait for the vaccine seems to me roughly the equivalent of running a marathon and lighting yourself on fire just when you can see the finish.”

LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, attended the hearing wearing a respirator and rubber gloves. Committee chair Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, ruled masks were optional at the meeting. Some Republicans on the committee took the no-mask option.

So the debate continues.

Teams say they’re doing their part to stay safe, even keeping the athletes’ biggest fans away.

“As parents, we’re willing to stay home,” Nelson said. “We’re willing to do that. Just let the kids play.”

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