How Ann Arbor-area teams are handling continued uncertainty of fall sports season

ANN ARBOR – Chris Morgan remembers the feeling of losing the spring sports season and he’s still holding out hope that won’t be the case this fall.

Morgan, who serves as the boys and girls soccer coach at Ann Arbor Skyline, watched his girls soccer team deal with the devastation of losing their season in the spring, and his boys team is still waiting to see if they’ll end up in the same boat.

Last week, the Michigan High School Association gave boys soccer, volleyball and girls swimming teams clearance to compete in Regions 6 and Regions 8 but didn’t do so for teams throughout the rest of the state.

Instead, the MHSAA said those three fall sports could still practice, but deferred to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on deciding when those sports would be allowed to compete. Soccer, volleyball and swimming are classified as moderate risk sports.

On Wednesday, coaches expected Whitmer to give more details on when soccer, volleyball and swim would be allowed to compete, but an announcement never came.

MHSAA executive director on fate of soccer, volleyball, swimming: ‘The clock is ticking’

For Morgan, not knowing the fate of the season has been difficult but having the chance to continue to practice for the time being, has been beneficial.

“I’m coming from a little bit of a different place because experiencing that (spring season) and experiencing what we’re doing now, I’m elated,” Morgan said. “I’m still on the field, I’m still practicing and I’m still with the boys.”

Milan girls swimming and diving coach Dan Heikka also coaches the boys team and he too has the memory of seeing his team’s season end right before the state finals.

With indoor pools and gyms still closed in Michigan due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Reds now travel to Temperance every day to practice at an outdoor pool, working to stay ready should a season take place.

But Heikka said his frustrations lie with having his team remain dedicated while not knowing what will come of their efforts.

“My girls were really disappointed when they didn’t get any news (Wednesday), but I still had my entire team here at practice at 7 a.m. this morning,” he said. “These kids are dedicated and they’re going to stay dedicated regardless and it’s good for them socially and emotionally, but they deserve some answers.”

Saline volleyball coach Emileen Palka was also expecting more direction in the past two weeks as her team has had to practice outside all summer.

Though no additional guidance has been tough to work with it, Palka is still optimistic and grateful the window for the season is still open, for now.

“It’s been a little bit of a challenge,” Palka said. “I know the girls have really enjoyed being together. It’s been a challenge to keep it competitive with being on the grass and in the wind and having the sun in our eyes, but they’ve really done a great job overcoming those obstacles.

“It would be nice to somehow get on more of a structured, hard surface, but right now, we’re going to take it day-by-day. We’re hoping that it’s not too long before we can get into a gym, but it has been a challenge to try to stay flexible each day.”

With the fate of the season still up in the air, Morgan is trying his best to keep his team’s mindset positive, regardless of what comes next.

“I keep telling my boys that this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” Morgan said. “What we’re able to do or not able to do over the next couple weeks is not going to make or break our season.

“The Governor has a job to do. I would not want her job. Obviously, saving lives is her main goal right now, so we’re small potatoes when you keep perspective. I wouldn’t bet any amount of money that we’re going to have a season, I’m just living in the moment and enjoying the day-to-day (routine) and trying to think one week at a time.”


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