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New Buffalo varsity basketball coach Nate Tripp (right) runs a contact-free practice session on Jan. 16.

Local coaches, players and parents are starting to wonder if there will be a high school basketball season after yet another setback.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced updated COVID-19 guidelines from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 22 which extended a ban on contact sports to Feb. 21. The ban was set to expire on Feb. 1, with the MHSAA planning for competition to begin Feb. 4 for basketball, with wrestling and competitive cheer following shortly after.

When the delays began in November, Lakeshore girls basketball coach Michael Clark never expected them to last this long.

“I was as optimistic as probably any coach in the state,” Clark said. “My optimism has definitely dwindled these last three weeks. I’m still holding on to a little hope. I hate to say it would not surprise me if they nixed indoor winter sports.”

The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association on Jan. 27 reaffirmed its commitment to play Winter sports when current restrictions are lifted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

Winter contact sports – girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey and wrestling – are allowed presently to participate in non-contact activities only, per an MDHHS emergency order restricting contact activity and competition due to COVID-19.

Non-contact Winter sports – girls and boys bowling, girls gymnastics, girls and boys alpine skiing and girls and boys swimming & diving – are able to participate in those activities fully.

The MDHHS limitations on Winter contact sports were set to expire at the end of January, but were extended last week by MDHHS through Feb. 21.

“Each week, we see hundreds of examples of children and families competing in non-school competition, both in-state and out-of-state,” Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “This not only is in violation of current MDHHS orders, but sending all of these families into different states will only become an impediment to getting students back in school full-time.

 “But we can contribute to students returning to in-person learning by allowing MHSAA member schools to begin full activities, participating locally and against more local competition, and under the guidance of trained, professional educators.”

During the Jan. 25 River Valley Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Scott Bojanich said he received “roughly 10 or 12 emails from students and parents, a couple of phone calls from parents, asking for our support” on Monday.

“And certainly we want to support our parents and our students and our coaches. We just need to take a look at what that support looks like and run that through our board policies and just have a conversation about where we’re going and how that would work for us.”

During the ensuing public comment portion of the Jan. 25 board meeting one of those parents (David McNabb) said over the weekend “myself along with many other parents and students have reached a breaking point,” and he asked for the help of district officials.

“It’s time to be courageous, stand together, and let the voices of our students be heard,” he said, noting that Michigan is one of two states in the country that has not allowed sports to continue on.

He said there also are mental health benefits to allowing more interaction among both students and adults.

Members of the Coopersville boys basketball are reportedly planning a peaceful protest at the State Capitol at noon on Jan. 30, and New Buffalo varsity boys coach Nate Tripp said he intends to participate.

“I will be there and I will be vocal for all athletes in all sports,” Tripp said. “When the MHSAA has provided the ‘science and data’ that the state has asked for and it proves Michigan athletes can play their sport and play it without spreading Covid, and then the state refuses to consider that information, well it is time, past time for me to be a voice for the kids.”

Tripp said he has informed members of his team of a request by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan (BCAM) that everyone contact their state representatives, senators, health and human services department, and governor’s office, adding that he told them to “express themselves and their feelings about being one of the only states in the entire country not allowed to play their winter sport.”

“This is something that each player will decide individually if they want to do it or not … we have left it up to the individual player to decide to what extent they want to lobby for our winter sports season.”

Tripp also said he has told his team “if we want to caravan to Saturday’s protest we can do it but it remains totally voluntary; however, we will wear masks, we will distance as much as possible, but we will, if nothing else, say that we did everything that we possibly could do to save our season, our dreams, our hopes, and gives us just one more chance to play the game we have all sacrificed for, had our families sacrifice for, and give us one last shot to see what we can do when we truly only care about each other when we are on the court.”

He said some athletes in Michigan are looking at the option of Indiana and AAU teams, adding that organized school sports provide a more controlled environment which is why fall sports in Michigan were played at an extremely safe rate.

David Johnson contributed to this report.

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