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No coming back now: Michigan High School Athletic Association makes official end to winter tourneys, spring seasons

Marquette’s Ansel Frost, left, defends against Canton’s Sammy McArdle passing the puck during their Dec. 28 game played at Lakeview Arena in Marquette. The Marquette Senior High School hockey team was one of the area squads stopped short of being able to play for a state championship due to the coronavirus outbreak in mid-March. The Redmen were just two victories short of the Division 2 title. (Journal file photo)

“We held out some hopes that the winter tournaments could be finished, but  with school not returning now, those plans kind of went out the window.” — ALEX TISEO, Marquette Senior High School athletic director,

U.P. representative on MHSAA Executive Council

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By STEVE BROWNLEE
Journal Sports Editor
MARQUETTE — It was a hard decision to come to, but in the end, just about the only one that could be made after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed school buildings for the remainder of the academic year in an executive order announced on Thursday.
That decision was to cancel any activities remaining in the winter and spring sports seasons and was made by the Michigan High School Athletic Association a day later on Friday.
It came after the MHSAA’s Representative Council had worked on some contingency plans on March 27 in case school would resume at some point before summer or be called off altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That is according to Marquette Senior High School athletic director Alex Tiseo, who was elected last fall as the Upper Peninsula Class A-B representative on the MHSAA legislative group.
Also from the U.P. are Class C rep Sean Jacques, the athletic director of Calumet Public Schools, and Class D’s Don Gustafson of St. Ignace, who is his district’s superintendent.
“The Representative Council made some contingency plans for if school reopened in April, the first half of May, the second half of May or not at all,” Tiseo said. “We held out some hopes that the winter tournaments could be finished, but with school not returning now, those plans kind of went out the window.”
He added that another Representative Council session set in May will likely take the first look at next fall’s season, though any firm decisions would undoubtedly wait to be made until summer.
“It depends on the landscape, how things are looking for the fall, whether we could start on time, have a delay or work on something else,” Tiseo said.
“I give the MHSAA a lot of credit with keeping up with what is going on as things change quickly. The executive director, Mark Uyl, is not being too hasty in making decisions, waiting for the latest information to come to the forefront.”
Tiseo also hopes that once the initial frustration is dealt with, this can be another life lesson for all those touched by the pandemic.
“My hope is that once everyone gets past the initial feeling of anger and frustration, this can enhance life skills as we learn to battle through this adversity.”
Ishpeming AD Terry Roberts agreed that with school buildings closing, there wasn’t really anything the MHSAA could do but also end the school sports year.
“At first, when they suspended activities a few weeks earlier, we didn’t know exactly what it meant,” Roberts said. “But at this point, there was nothing else the MHSAA could do.”
He said he wondered if some high school-related activities held in the summer, like basketball camps and football workouts, will also be canceled.
“I’m sure (the MHSAA) will take direction from the governor with those kinds of decisions,” Roberts said.
The MHSAA made increasingly restrictive decisions in the same manner that Whitmer did, first still planning to hold its basketball, hockey, gymnastics and Lower Peninsula swimming tournaments without fans on March 12, then a day later suspending those events altogether for an indefinite period.
On March 17, the MHSAA closed its office in East Lansing, having its staff work remotely, which was followed by a March 24 decision extending the suspension of all winter and spring sports activities until April 13.
Then when school buildings were declared closed on Thursday, the MHSAA followed suit with sports activities a day later.
The MHSAA “has canceled the remainder of the 2019-20 winter and spring sports season, in compliance with the Thursday ‘state of disaster’ directive by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closing school buildings and moving education online for the remainder of the school year” the organization said to open its statement Friday.
It mentioned this is the first school year that MHSAA Finals wouldn’t be held in multiple sports since 1942-43 during World War II.
“We are heartbroken to not be able to provide these opportunities for Michigan’s student-athletes, and especially seniors,” Uyl said in the MHSAA statement. “We continue to hear from dozens asking us to hold out hope. But safety always must come first, and Gov. Whitmer is making courageous decisions to safeguard the people of our state.
“We understand as much as anyone how much school sports mean to athletes and their communities. We had ideas and hopes for finishing winter and spring and helping bring some sort of normalcy after this long break.”
The MHSAA went on to say that since those particular winter and all spring sports didn’t conclude with finals, no champions will be named. But teams and individuals winning championships in earlier rounds will still stand.
Its statement also said the MHSAA is a voluntary, nongovernmental association composed of more than 1,500 public and private senior high, junior high and middle schools existing to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.