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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer specifies masks for high school football, soccer, volleyball

Ishpeming’s John Corkin heads downfield with the ball during a game against Gwinn on Oct. 4. (Journal file photo)

By STEVE BROWNLEE

Journal Sports Editor

and DAVID EGGERT

The Associated Press

EAST LANSING — Some prominent fall high school sports, including football, have been thrown into something of a turmoil after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a new executive order meant to clarify last week’s order that allowed football to resume.

In general, she said late Wednesday in Executive Order 2020-180 that masks must be worn in training and competition only when athletes cannot consistently keep six feet apart.

The clarification to Executive Order 2020-176 went on to single out football, soccer and volleyball as sports where face coverings are required due to the coronavirus pandemic. It also singled out exemptions for sports where athletes can keep their distance “except for occasional and fleeting moments” — tennis, golf, cross country, baseball and softball.

Her initial order to reopen gyms and let additional organized sports resume, issued last week, required all athletes — “while on the field of play” — to wear a mask except when swimming.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, which quickly reinstated the postponed football season, said in a memo to schools that it was seeking further interpretations and guidance on the mask mandate for football, soccer and volleyball.

Whitmer’s order continues to say that sports organizers must ensure that athletes comply with the mask requirement.

Earlier this week, state House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican, criticized requiring children participating in outdoor sports to wear face coverings.

“Tennis. Cross country. Soccer. Golf. (You get this point.) Let me be clear: this absolutely crazy. Wild!” he tweeted.

The governor, a Democrat whose state has seen nearly 6,900 deaths related to COVID-19, allowed athletic competitions to resume in regions where they had been restricted. Her administration released guidance, however, recommending against — but not prohibiting — contact sports.

Those are defined as involving more than occasional and fleeting contact. They include football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, field hockey, boxing and martial arts with opponents.

Whitmer, in a statement, said the virus “is easily spread through airborne particles and can affect everyone differently. By wearing a face covering when proper distancing is not possible, athletes will be better protected from contracting the virus and spreading it to family members, frontline workers and vulnerable populations.”

The MHSAA came out with a statement late Thursday afternoon to try to provide further guidance to its members.

It said this was part of its communications sent to member schools on facial coverings:

“As of Sept. 10:

“Face coverings may be worn but student-athletes are not required to do so while in active participation in cross country, golf and tennis. Active participation only applies when an athlete is ‘in’ the game, match, meet, race and/or competition or is actively involved in any warm-up or cool-down activity….

“Face coverings are required in football, soccer and volleyball. This includes all times during active participation and all times during nonactive participation when six feet of physical distance cannot be maintained.

“There are no provisions in EO 180 for medical intolerance reasons or medical waivers. This is not an MHSAA regulation, and thus the MHSAA has no legal authority to waive or modify this executive order from the governor’s office.

“In both indoor and outdoor practice and training sessions in all regions of the state, including regions six and eight, this same sport-specific guidance applies.”

Regions six and eight are the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, which have been under less rigorous rules due to a lower incidence of coronavirus and its more rural settings.

More from the MHSAA:

“Consistent with current executive orders, face coverings shall be worn by coaches, medical staff, game event staff, media members and spectators. Note that broadcasters and (public address) announcers are an exception to this requirement when that person is actively broadcasting or announcing.

“Officials may wear face coverings on the field of play if he or she desires. Officials shall wear face coverings upon arrival at a facility, before the contest, during intermissions away from the field, court or area of play and following the contest until departure.

“Remember that officials have no role in enforcing face covering requirements as this is a responsibility of school administrators.”

The next part of the MHSAA’s statement may provide some leeway for coaches or schools looking to employ something other than cloth masks:

“Executive Order 180 does not define ‘facial coverings’ for purposes of organized sports. Traditional cloth masks, gaiters, affixed helmet plastic shields (100% clear — no tint) and cloth or fabric helmet attachments located inside the face mask (all of which must cover the nose and mouth) are not prohibited.

“The MHSAA will attempt to assist schools in understanding these requirements but know the MHSAA has no authority to waive, ignore or modify executive orders for any reason.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.