By David Fleet
On Thursday, Gov. Whitmer announced that indoor contact sports may resume on Feb. 8 as long as safety measures are followed.
Whitmer said during a press conference sports can continue on Monday as long as masks are worn. If masks are not worn, student-athletes must have regular COVID-19 testing.
“I appreciate the passion of our young athletes and the desire that they share to get back in the game that they love,” said Whitmer.
Practice and games for contact sports such as basketball, hockey and competitive cheer can resume according to the new state health order. The order says masks must be worn by athletes during games and practice, “unless it would be unsafe for participants to remain masked.” Prior to Thursday’s decisions, it had been almost a year since high school athletes like Goodrich Senior Aidan Rubio had their seasons halted.
“On March 12 (2020), Coach Barns told us we were done for the season, due to the virus,” recalled Rubio, a 6 foot-6 inch forward who averaged 18 points and seven rebounds as a junior leading the Martians in the 2020 season.
Martian Head Basketball Coach Gary Barns gathered his Varsity team in the GHS gymnasium just before the district final game versus Powers Catholic High School. The Martians were coming off a stellar 21-1 season, including 16-0 in their first year in the Flint Metro League.
Whitmer reported that health officials need to watch the COVID numbers prior to lifting restrictions that halted some winter high school sports. At issue were high school basketball, hockey, cheerleader and wrestling, that were set to resume on Feb. 1, when indoor dining at restaurants reopened. However, until Thursday’s announcement, the ban on high school contact winter sports were scheduled to be in place through Feb. 21.
The frustration prompted Rubio to join parents, coaches and fellow players to gather in Lansing on Jan. 30 in a statewide effort to encourage the governor and health officials to allow all contact high school sports to continue.
“Basketball had been my number-one goal since I can remember,” said Rubio. “I want to have a winter season and I feel my voice counted when I was there. I also wanted to add to the numbers.”
Rubio was impressed that adults set up the peaceful “Let Them Play” demonstration on the State Capitol steps, which attracted individuals from statewide.
“It was for our benefit, the least I could do was show up and support the teams,” he said. “It was amazing that all those people are impacted by sports in some way. Wrestling, girls basketball, boys basketball from freshman to varsity are impacted. The word certainly got out, they were tagging the governor, the health department on Twitter. The media was definitely there. Our voices were there.”
“They came together for one common goal, to get the 60,000 student athletes back to playing winter sports,” he said. “I have a lot to prove this year—it’s difficult to prove when you just don’t play. I’m at a disadvantage and we can play safely, we proved that during football season.”
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS responded.
“We are pleased at our continued progress in Michigan that has allowed us to take this step forward in a phased approach,” said Khaldun, at the Thursday press conference.
“As a parent and former student-athlete myself, I get how important athletics are to our children’s physical and mental health. However, parents and athletes need to understand the risk involved with contact sports if they choose to participate.”
By David Fleet