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Local teams in limbo after MHSAA suspends postseason tourneys

In more than a dozen years as Onaway High School athletic director, Marty Mix has dealt with his fair share of challenges.

But Thursday may just have been his toughest day on the job.

Amid growing concerns over the coronavirus — and on a day that included the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments, major conference basketball tournaments, the suspension of the National Hockey League season, and a delay to the start of the Major League Baseball season — high school sports in Michigan weren’t immune, either.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) suspended all winter postseason tournaments immediately and indefinitely.

The MHSAA announced the decision on its website and via social media at 2:25 p.m. Thursday afternoon and reaffirmed that decision at 3 p.m.

For Onaway’s boys basketball team — which won two games earlier this week to get a chance to play for a district title — it means the season might be all but over, just as it might be for dozens of other programs across the state.

“The hardest part for me is telling those kids that this is done,” Mix said. “I’m glad we got wrestling and girls basketball done, but you’re wondering, ‘Is there more we don’t know?’ It’s been an emotional day.”

According to the MHSAA’s website, updates and more information will be forthcoming in the next few days, with no timetable yet for possible rescheduling of games.

There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Northeast Michigan.

“This is a true and real public health crisis at the time and we need to do what we can to help slow and mitigate the spread of this virus,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said in a video statement.

The MHSAA’s decision was an upgraded response from the one announced earlier in the day and came on a day when information changed rapidly and events across the country were either postponed or canceled seemingly by the hour.

As of 10 a.m., all MHSAA events, including the ice hockey finals, the girls gymnastics finals, the swimming and diving finals, and boys district basketball finals were scheduled to be played through the weekend, albeit with restricted attendance.

Locally, that included several boys basketball district finals scheduled for Friday night: Oscoda was scheduled to play Rogers City at Johannesburg-Lewiston High School, Onaway was scheduled to play Posen at Onaway High School, and Hale was scheduled play Mio at Hale High School.

Mix’s day began with lots of organizational preparations per Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recommendation on Wednesday to stop large gatherings.

Those recommendations stated games could be played, but with a limited number of spectators. The MHSAA would have allowed 50 people per team, including players, coaches, parents and guardians, as well as essential school personnel. All participating schools were to provide an entry list of attendees prior to a contest.

Prior to the afternoon announcement canceling the games, custodial workers at Onaway had re-bleached all the chairs used for players, coaches, and workers at the scorer’s table and had re-bleached the locker rooms. Hand sanitizer would have been made available on several tables outside the gym and both teams were to receive itemized tickets, which would be collected at the door.

Mix was pulling into Posen High School to deliver the Vikings’ allotment of tickets when he received the email with the MHSAA’s afternoon announcement.

While the MHSAA release leaves open a possibility for rescheduling, Mix wasn’t optimistic that it would happen.

“I hope I’m wrong, but that gives a sense that it’s over,” he said. “Wins and losses don’t mean as much as what the kids will remember (later in life). All three of our (Presque Isle County) schools (got to a district final) and now they won’t have an chance to finish the year.”

Mix was surprised by the state’s accelerated response on Thursday morning and disappointed by the afternoon decision to suspend play, but understood why those tough decisions were made.

Michigan wasn’t the only state to make a call on tournament play Thursday. Illinois pulled the plug on its boys state basketball tournament Thursday night and Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin will hold tournament games with limited numbers of spectators in attendance.

“It’s been alarming, but I understand you do have to be careful and do due diligence,” Mix said. “I feel bad for the kids. You work all year to get to this point, but you can’t take that gamble. The state wants what’s best for every kid.”

The MHSAA has also gotten questions about spring sports, but decisions on holding practices and games are to be made by local administrators.

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