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News cancels track and field event

News File Photo Alpena High School athlete Aidan Day (center) is seen running in this May 2018 photo.

ALPENA — The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in another sports cancellation, this time the 17th annual Alpena News Track and Field Honor Roll Invitational scheduled for May.

“Obviously, we are sad to have to make this announcement,” Alpena News Publisher Bill Speer said. “With last Friday’s cancellation of the spring sports season in Michigan by officials with the Michigan High School Athletic Association, it made our decision inevitable.”

Back in March, local coaches and newspaper personnel were holding out hope that perhaps an abbreviated season would be able to be held. But, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer placed her “shelter” order in place and closed schools for the rest of the academic year, it all but guaranteed the event was in jeopardy. The MHSAA announcement last week ended any hope for the event this year.

More than 20,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and nearly 1,000 deaths from the disease have been reported statewide. One case has been reported in Presque Isle County. No cases have been reported in Alpena, Montmorency, or Alcona counties.

“We are heartbroken to not be able to provide these opportunities for Michigan’s student athletes, and especially seniors,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said in a statement. “We continue to hear from dozens asking us to hold out hope. But safety always must come first, and Governor 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. But this is the correct decision, and we will play our part in bringing schools and communities together again when the time is right.”

News File Photo Alpena High School athlete Taylor Foster is seen doing hurdles in this May 2018 photo.

Speer agreed that the decision, while tough, was the correct one to make.

“Like it or not, we all are fighting a battle against the virus,” Speer said. “That being the case, we need to do the right things, and, in this instance, that means not holding an event that brings hundreds of athletes and spectators together.”

The Alpena News event was the idea of former managing editor Steve Murch, who was familiar with other events around the state sponsored by newspapers and brought the idea to Speer. Together, they worked out the logistics of sponsorship and the event has been a regular on area sports schedules every May. Every two years, the event rotates between Alpena and Alcona schools.

Coaches appreciated the timing of the invitational, usually held the Tuesday after Memorial Day, since it coincided nicely with state contests.

“Coaches viewed this an excellent tune-up for their athletes headed to states to compete against the top athletes across Northeast Michigan,” Speer said.

While the 17th annual event will not be run in 2020, Speer said planning will go into bringing it back again in 2021.

“This has been a great event for the athletes, the schools, the newspaper, and the public,” Speer said. “One of the real joys each year is to see the smaller schools compete against someone bigger, like Alpena. All the athletes feed off that competition, and, to see the camaraderie after between the athletes is really special.”

Details for the 2021 event will be announced later.

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