Coaches express mixed emotions about restart

NILES — There was a range of emotions from local winter sports coaches following the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s announcement on when winter sports would restart and how quickly competition could begin on Wednesday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s press conference announced that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services would allow for loosening some of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions starting Saturday, including the resumption of indoor group exercise and indoor non-contact sports with masks and social distancing.

Three sports — boys and girls bowling, gymnastics and boys swimming and driving — may resume practice on Saturday with the first competition dates set for Jan. 22 (swimming and diving) and Jan. 25 for gymnastics and bowling.

Brandywine Coach Pepper Miller was thrilled to get back to the lanes in preparation for the upcoming season.

“I am excited to get the bowling season started for my high school bowlers,” she said. “I feel the school and MHSAA have safety measures in place that will keep us as safe as possible. The kids will roll with anything that comes their way since they have had to since last March. All the athletes and their parents really need this. It’s time.”

Miller said she is not concerned about a lack of practice as all teams will be in the same boat.

“As far as being ready by Jan. 25, everyone has been in the same situation as far as not being able to practice or even meet face to face,” she said. “We will do the best we can in the time we have to prepare. For my team, I am worried for the number of kids that will return or new ones coming out because a lot of them have found jobs since schools went to e-learning.”

While Miller, along with other bowling, swimming and diving and gymnastic coaches, are excited to get restarted, basketball and wrestling coaches are frustrated by the fact that their seasons are still on hold until the first week of February.

Boys and girls basketball, along with wrestling and competitive cheer, can resume preseason, non-contact practices on Saturday. The first date for competition has been set for Feb. 1, when the MDHHS’s guidelines are scheduled to expire.

MHSAA officials said that adjusted tournament dates would be announced later this week.

“The news is definitely tough,” said Edwardsburg boys basketball coach Stephen Wright. “The guys are ready and excited to get going, as I’m sure many programs are. The Feb. 1 start date for games does not affect us too much, considering a big part of our program is still playing football. So, we will abide by the guidelines, get started with conditioning and embrace every opportunity we get to play.”

Veteran Cassopolis basketball coach Ricky Evans said he is happy his team can return to practice.

“’Restart.’ How many times have they said that? I guess one good thing is that we can get in gym,” he said. “I think we have enough time. I have a few returning from last year. We will make it be enough time. The main challenge, as I see it, is keeping kids healthy and making sure we are wearing our masks and doing the things that we are supposed to do.”

First-year Buchanan Athletic Director Mark Frey said he would do whatever needs to be done to help make the upcoming season as smooth as possible.

“We will adjust and try to provide the best possible experience for our student-athletes,” he said. “We know there is frustration with this decision, but as a program, we will focus our attention on moving forward and being positive.”

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