Local players, coaches react to season finally getting started: 'I have goosebumps'
Basketball season can start as early as Monday, wrestling can get going Feb. 12
Battle Creek Enquirer
Finally the governor is saying, "Let them play."
After athletes, parents and fans of high school sports were figuratively chanting, "Let Them Play" for months, the singular voice that counted finally was heard as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday that indoor contact sports may resume Monday as long as safety precautions are followed.
That announcement was greeted with excitement and relief by local players and coaches.
MORE: Local athletes, coaches, parents join the rallying cry at Capitol, saying 'Let them play'
"I can't even explain how excited I am," Lakeview boys basketball coach Steve Wichmann said. "When I first heard it, I said to myself, I think I have goosebumps a little bit. Just excited for the kids.
"I have been telling them all along we are going to play games, and I said we are going to play games earlier than they say. So to their credit, they have been working their butts off to stay ready. Look at them out there now, they are like little kids running up and down the floor, they are so excited."
Similar to what happened last March, when COVID-19 concerns first were an issue, seniors were left to wonder if they would have a spring season. Then, baseball, softball, track and other spring sports were eventually canceled. After a delay that lasted months, winter sports athletes were thinking the same was going to happen to them.
"We kept hearing rumors that we were going to play, but I wasn't going to get excited until we knew it was true. But now that it is, it is amazing," said Lakeview senior Clyde Sanders II. "I didn't know if this was going to happen. I lost motivation at one point a few weeks ago. I thought it was over, but we kept pushing through it and we are here now."
The winter season for sports like boys and girls basketball, wrestling, competitive cheer and hockey were supposed to start in late November or early December. After a delay forced by COVID-19 concerns, those seasons were put on pause. It was then announced full-contact practices would be allowed as of Jan. 23. Then the date was pushed back again to Feb. 22, keeping those sports on hold – until now.
Whitmer made her remarks during a Thursday news conference, saying the Michigan Health Department was lifting the ban on contact sports.
"I appreciate the passion of our young athletes and the desire that they share to get back in the game that they love," Whitmer said Thursday afternoon.
According to a new state health order, practice and games for sports like basketball, hockey and competitive cheer can resume Monday. Wrestling will be allowed to start Feb. 12.
The order says masks must be worn by athletes during games and practice, "unless it would be unsafe for participants to remain masked." If that is the case, then athletes must be tested in accordance with MHSAA guidelines.
Harper Creek boys basketball coach Matt Bowling and several of his players were at a Let Them Play rally in Lansing at the Capitol on Saturday. Beaver players Zane Bowling and Ben Shafer spoke at the rally to echo a request raised by thousands of athletes and supporters across the state, asking for a chance to have a season.
"It's a good feeling that after we were able to express our voice in Lansing, that she heard us and now we can play. It feels good," Zane Bowling said.
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Previously, it was thought a basketball season wouldn't be able to start until Feb. 22. With available game dates starting as early as Monday and the MHSAA stating teams can play up to three times a week, there is a possibility programs could get as many as 18 games in before postseason play starts the week of March 22.
"After Saturday's rally, we had a lot of frustration Monday and Tuesday where we were wondering if we were going to have a season. And now we are back and it feels good. So happy for the kids," Matt Bowling said. "It's a huge relief, because there has been a cloud over all their heads all this time and to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it feels good."
Bill Broderick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter:@billbroderick