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MHSAA suspends all sports activities until April

Athletes in Northeast Michigan are used to waiting it out when the spring sports season starts, but they– and the rest of the state — might be left waiting longer than usual.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) on Friday afternoon directed all member schools — more than 700, as of last year, and all of the schools in Northeast Michigan — to suspend activities in all sports for all seasons until at least April 5.

The decision comes less than 24 hours after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered that all schools close for the next three weeks amid efforts to deter the spread of coronavirus. Confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, reached 25 statewide on Friday night, the closest in Charlevoix County in Northwest Michigan.

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

The halted athletic activities include practices, scrimmages, games, conditioning, strength training, and all other school-organized activities or sessions.

On Thursday, the MHSAA announced the suspension of all postseason winter sports tournaments, which included several local boys basketball district finals.

Local athletes, coaches, and administrators are used to delays that come with the arrival of the spring sports season, especially those caused by weather. Heavy snowfall in April 2018 wiped out nearly a month of local games and events, and it’s typical — at least in recent years — that most teams get started by mid-April, if they’re lucky.

But the string of cancellations and suspensions this week amid health concerns over coronavirus is new territory for school officials, and every precaution is being taken to ensure safety.

Alpena High School announced a hold on spring sports activities around 8 a.m., several hours ahead of the MHSAA’s announcement.

“It’s been uncharted territory,” Alpena athletic director Tim Storch said. “It’s something where it’s going across the country, where you see Major League Baseball pushing back their season and then the cancelling of the NCAA Tournaments and all the other tournaments. It’s eventually going to trickle down to the high school level.”

Monday marked the official start of practice for spring sports teams across Michigan, and next week was supposed to usher in the start of spring sports contests.

Alpena, for its part, was supposed to hold its first contests on April 6 for both girls JV and varsity soccer and track and field.

Those games will likely be pushed back. Storch is hopeful that someone — likely a state official — will establish a date for resuming athletic endeavors.

With no official practices or conditioning being held, many coaches have talked to players about the importance of staying active during the extended break.

Alpena girls track coach Collin Riffert met with his team Thursday and encouraged his athletes to do what they can to stay active. In other words: Prepare for an upcoming season, regardless of the start date.

“We talked about doing workouts at home, running throw or whatever (event) they do,” Riffert said. “It makes it tough with all our stuff (pre-season practices) usually happening inside. There’s a lot of kids to be concerned about.”

Storch, who coaches Alpena’s boys and girls soccer teams, has also communicated with his players and encouraged them to stay active.

“I’ve encouraged them to do things on their own, stay physically active and stay in shape from an endurance standpoint and a soccer standpoint,” Storch said.

While Alpena’s athletes may not be able to get into Gillespie Gymnasium to work out, those looking to stay active can still do so at local facilities, including the APlex and Bay Athletic Club.

The APlex plans keep its health club open, as well as its pickleball and tennis courts. Youth activities held there, including karate and gymnastics, have been cancelled through April 6, but the APlex will have one tennis court with its new indoor turf surface available where anyone interested can rent time to use it.

Bay Athletic Club has encouraged people to continue exercising as a way to boost the immune system. It states on its Facebook page that is monitoring the coronavirus situation and keeping up with recommendations from state officials, the Center for Disease Control and its industry advisors as well as partners at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena.

BAC’s facilities are cleaned and disinfected continuously, but a stricter cleaning schedule has been implemented to keep facilities and equipment available for use.

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