Ann Arbor, Dexter school officials followed MHSAA recommendations, but not without healthy debate

It’s been a challenging and even hectic couple of weeks for school administrators, coaches and athletes after the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) reversed field and approved football for the fall 2020 season.

The MHSAA’s Council had authorized on Aug. 20 the start of competition in volleyball, soccer and swimming/diving statewide, pending the authorization of that activity in the specific regions by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office. On Aug. 14, the MHSAA Council postponed the fall 2020 football season to spring 2021, but on Sept. 3 changed that plan to allow for a shortened football season this fall.

“We are thankful for the opportunity for kids to get back on the field in all fall sports, and we appreciate Gov. Whitmer providing that opportunity with Executive Order 176 ,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said on Sept. 3. “We share the governor’s priorities of putting health and safety first, and the COVID-19 guidance and protocols designed by the MHSAA at her request have led to the safe starts in all sports across the state.”

Schools were not required to play any of those sports this fall, and had the option to postpone until the spring. However, the MHSAA said it will conduct its postseason events in football, volleyball, soccer and swimming only for the fall 2020 season.

Most school districts follow MHSAA guidelines but there were discussions from Ann Arbor to Dexter to Lansing whether they would play ball in the fall. Just because the MHSAA cleared the way, districts still had the option of staying home – and a few did just that.

Lansing Public Schools (Everett, Eastern and Sexton), University Prep Schools of Detroit (University Prep Academy, Science & Math and Art & Design), Covert and St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic decided to stay on the sidelines this fall.

Detroit Old Redford, Pontiac Academy for Excellence, Warren Michigan Math & Science Academy, Westland University Learning Academy, Dearborn Heights Star International, Southfield Manoogian, Hope of Detroit, Dearborn Advanced Technology, Detroit Universal Academy and Pontiac Arts & Technology Academy also opted out of all fall sports.

While the rest of the state is ready to kick things off on Friday on the gridiron, Ann Arbor decided to wait another week before playing football.

On Sept. 9, Ann Arbor Schools Supt. Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift sent parents a letter explaining how school officials balanced many competing, critical factors in weighing this challenging decision while acknowledging there was no outcome that would satisfy all.

“After a great deal of consideration by district administration, the Board of Education, athletic directors and coaches, we will not stand in the way of the Executive Order issued last Thursday (Sept. 3) allowing the resumption of fall athletic seasons, and providing that high school athletic practices and competitions may proceed this fall,” Dr. Swift stated in her letter. “Yet we will communicate, implement, and closely monitor a set of rigorous AAPS health and safety protocols to be observed during these athletic activities.”

Dexter will kick things off on Friday with a game at Chelsea in the season opener for both schools.

Christopher Timmis, superintendent of Dexter Community Schools, said the Dreadnaughts are not taking the field without careful consideration to the health risks involved for all the student-athletes and coaches.

“We’ve been working directly with the MHSAA and our conference,” Timmis said Tuesday. “It’s been constant communication since spring.  In our return to school plan, we built in our protocols for athletics and included that we will follow MHSAA guidelines. This made the process much smoother.”

The Dreadnaughts and the three Ann Arbor public schools play in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

Ann Arbor and Dexter school officials will vigilantly monitor the health condition of their athletes and will strictly practice appropriate quarantine and contact tracing when/if COVID cases arise.

Dr. Swift summed it up best: “We will continue to hold the health and safety of our students and staff as our top priority, and we take very seriously the additional responsibility that falls to us to coordinate high school sports activities in a healthy, safe and responsible manner during the COVID-19 pandemic.”