Protesters gathered on the Michigan state Capitol lawn Friday to plead for the governor or the Michigan High School Athletic Association to bring back high school football this fall.
Families and players decked out in high school spirit wear and football jerseys chanted, “Let us play” and held signs that said “Don’t Dim Our Friday Night Lights.”
They were protesting MHSSA’s announcement that the fall season would move to spring because of the high-risk categorization of the sport for its potential to spread COVID-19 due to high player-to-player contact.
In a statement, the organization attributed the decision to “consultation with state health department officials and after surveying MHSAA member high schools on their progress and preferences after the first four days of practice.”
The move sidelined 34,219 student athletes expected to play football this fall across Michigan. Some of the parents and players who showed up Friday are frustrated with the idiosyncrasies of the decision.
Carina Cosby’s son is a senior football player from Sturgis, Michigan. She said it’s not fair that Ohio and Indiana have gone ahead while Michigan players are held back.
“For me, where Sturgis is located, right on the Michigan-Indiana line, and tonight Indiana is getting ready to play their second game and those kids literally are 10 miles away,” said Cosby.
Cosby added that players have already been conditioning all summer only to have the decision made after four days of official practices—not the typical two-week threshold that’s been used to measure other activities that have been reintroduced according to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s phased reopening plan.
In a statement, Mark Uyl, the Executive director of MHSAA, said the organization is still waiting on more information from the governor and made the decision based on Executive Order 160 which “dictates what athletic activity is, and is not allowed, in our state.”
Other fall sports practices and start dates are being governed by a patchwork of executive orders from the governor. Girls volleyball, boys soccer, and girls swimming and diving can take place in parts of the state, but play against other teams is complicated by regions where indoor facilities and sporting arenas remain closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti wrote a letter to the MHSAA and the governor, charging MHSAA to make the decision that he believes the governor left up to them.
Vitti’s letter urges the organization to pass a resolution to allow football to be played in the fall, rather than moved to the spring, and to give the state two days to issue an executive order banning play.
Ayden Berry is a senior wide receiver from Fowlerville High School. He said even if some players ended up testing positive for COVID-19, it’s a risk he’s willing to take.
“You have a risk at everything that you do. I feel like once you wake up, it’s a risk at your life. It doesn’t matter what you do—you could die at any moment, so I mean—it wouldn’t really stop me,” said Berry.
His mother, Dawn Berry, was decked out in a purple jersey and mask. She said she doesn’t understand how other people can make a choice for her child.
“I keep hearing that there’s all this data out there why they’re making the decisions for the kids not to play. But I took my son to his pediatrician of 17 years and she signed off on him being able to play,” she said.
Other sports are allowed to go forward with outside practices, but indoor gymnasiums remain closed under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders. Football will move to the spring season, but players and parents at the capitol Friday weren’t optimistic about spring football.