By Dan Hardenbrook
Every day is bringing a new possibility for high school sports. New rules, new guidelines, new executive orders. Last week, I offered up some quick tips and ideas for the return of high school sports. Some of you even thought they were good! So at the request of some loyal readers, and because I often get new questions every day. I thought I would give you more of my thoughts on what the future could look like for high school sports. In the first part of this three-week series, I will focus on the fall sports season.
I feel 100% confident in saying that cross country will be the first sport to return to active competition. It features no contact, and it’s outdoors, spread out over miles. No locker rooms required. The only issue is with the start, but that can be solved easily with staggered starts.
Good news, race fans. This has already been done in some formats and states for years. When I ran cross country, we called it the “Foxes and the Hounds”. We even used this annually in one of our home meets here in Newberry.
I see each team numbering its runners. Each numbered group will start at the same time. This would limit each start to a much smaller group. Putting the faster groups first would ease the crowds in the finish chute as well, since they are less likely to be caught by other groups. All kids still run the same distance. All times are still measured. You just race the clock.
I think the sport that got the biggest boost in this week’s announcements was volleyball. Two weeks ago, when the new MFHS/MHSAA guidelines came out, you would’ve thought there was no chance. Heck, volleyball was being treated like a vicious combat sport because they play inside. But now with indoor gathering sizes being increased, volleyball has a much better chance to go this fall. The MHSAA and the NFHS both said that volleyball was a moderate risk sport that could be moved “low risk” with proper cleaning and spacing protocols.
I’ve been to a ton of volleyball games over the past two years. I covered games in nearly a dozen different schools last year from Cheboygan to Manistique. I broadcasted two separate district tourneys, a regional, and a quarterfinal. Rarely are there more than 100 people present, counting coaches, players, and officials. Most crowds probably average less than 50 in the regular season. I say let them play.
What about football? I hope so. Even if it’s a shortened season. Obviously contact is the ultimate issue. I don’t see a way around it and you can’t play the sport without it. You can limit it, but not eliminate it.
I thought the MHSAA and National Guidelines were tough. No handoffs, no passes, athletes in pods of ten. With the state moving forward though I believe it’s on the right track. But it’s too soon to tell. Summer workouts have been given the green light, but at this point, I don’t know when we can put on the pads. I still think a spring season buys more time, but weather issues, recruiting challenges, and scheduling all remain big blocks.
But schools are starting workouts. Newberry will begin its summer program next week. Conferences are having scheduling meetings and discussing how to host events. The MHSAA and some of its schools have said they plan on playing as normal. They need it almost as much financially for their athletic budgets as they need it for students and fans to have something to do. Nobody has said no. Here’s to hoping that it soon becomes a yes.