Ann Arbor school officials calling for delay to start of MHSAA winter sports

From Jeanice Kerr Swift / Superintendent of Schools Ann Arbor Public Schools

The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, parents and community remain our highest priority throughout this public health crisis. We take our responsibility very seriously to coordinate high school sports activities in a healthy, safe and responsible manner during the COVID-19 pandemic that continues this fall.

In the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS), we place a high value on student participation in athletics and understand the importance of athletics to support mental health and individual and team development for our students. The AAPS has long been known for strong support of student-athletes and continues a long-standing tradition of excellence in athletic endeavors.  At this time, however, we must balance the value and benefits alongside our responsibility to minimize community spread of the virus and the risks to our athletes and coaches’ health and safety, especially as our community and the state experience dramatic increases in infection rates.

Last week, the MHSAA announced that the winter sports season would start on time, with activities planned to begin during the first week of November. In the AAPS, the winter sports season includes girls and boys basketball, girls and boys bowling, cheer and competitive cheer, figure skating, gymnastics, girls and boys ice hockey, boys swim/dive, synchronized swimming and wrestling.

This decision of the MHSAA causes tremendous concern given the current, significant rise in rates of infection and community spread impacting every county and region across Michigan. Reports show a substantial increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Michigan over the previous 14 days. During an MDHHS webinar on Monday, October 26, Dr. Khaldun, Michigan Chief Medical Executive, shared that all counties and regions in Michigan are currently impacted at “a magnitude unlike anything that has been seen prior during this COVID crisis.”

In addition, because winter sports take place indoors where mitigation strategies are more challenging to implement and control, health and safety risks are inherently higher for winter sports than fall sports. The AAPS has established guidelines and protocols that minimize these risks by adhering to all of the best-practices mitigation measures available. However, even with measures in place, we have seen the incidence of student, staff, parent and community impact across the state during this fall athletic season. We cannot support the on-time start of the winter sports season, given the current infection rates in our county, region, and state.

Therefore, we are calling on the MHSAA to delay the start of the winter athletic season. It is in the interest of the health and safety of all Michigan’s high school student-athletes, coaches and staff, parents and communities to ensure a positive experience for student-athletes and a successful, sustainable winter sports season. At the very least, we recommend that the start of winter sports season be delayed until the week following the Thanksgiving break, November 30, 2020.

We ask all school districts in our county, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and across Michigan to join together in delaying the start of the winter sports season. This delay will allow the monitoring of infection rates over the coming weeks and the responsible commencement of the season when these rates recede to a level that reduces the inherent risk of high school athletics participation.

Over the next two weeks, we will continue our advocacy to delay the winter sports season. We will engage with the MHSAA and ask school administrators in our county, conference and across the state to join us in delaying the start of the winter sports season. We will provide regular updates to our school community and present the Board of Education with a report on November 11, 2020.

In the meantime, we want to reinforce the importance of consistently following all COVID-19 mitigation strategies and protocols. These include consistent use of face coverings, avoiding crowds, maintaining social distance and frequent hand sanitization.

We can all do our part to slow the spread of the virus. The decision to delay the Michigan winter High School sports season is one important step we can take together across our Michigan communities, to prioritize the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, parents and families.