Let Them Play wants athletes’ voices heard at Capitol rally or courtroom debates
They thought their return was complete.
But a group that advocates the return of all high school sports to Michigan is now calling for another rally.
Let Them Play, which formed during the August closure of Michigan High School Athletic Association sports and has since hosted two marches on the State Capitol building, calls on athletes, coaches, administrators, parents and fans flock to Lansing again at noon. Saturday.
“We want to hear hundreds of basketballs bouncing and hundreds of hockey players beating their sticks,” said Jayme McElvany, organizer of Let Them Play. “These children need to make their voices heard.”
In a curvy school year – thanks to COVID-19 and safety protocols put in place by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – the latest announcement appears to have hit the sports scene hardest. high school.
The basketball, hockey, wrestling and competition teams had started the practice and were counting the days until the end of the decree limiting contact sports on February 1. Then, on Friday, the MDHHS unexpectedly announced the extension of this order until February. 21.
“The last blow was devastating. I’ve never seen my daughter this low, ”said Bethany Bartlett, whose daughter plays basketball at Standish-Sterling High School. “The reality struck her:” I may never play for my school again. ” Kids can see the writing on the wall, and it’s just awful.
Bartlett said she plans to be in Lansing for the rally on Saturday. She hopes to send the message to Governor Gretchen Whitmer and health department officials that student-athletes need to play.
“My daughter wants to play her last year. This is what she does. She loves basketball, ”Bartlett said. “The children did their part. My daughter missed Christmas activities and trips. She quarantined herself because she didn’t want to risk bringing anything to her team. They all just want to play. “
Previous Let Them Play rallies drew over 1,000 people to the Capitol Steps and featured impassioned speeches by coaches and parents from across the state. On Saturday, the group plans to do it again, but with more emphasis on student voices.
McElvany said a list of athletes – including Coopersville basketball player Ethan Coady, who launched the campaign for another rally in Lansing – should speak to the crowd and any government official willing to listen.
The next step for Let Them Play could be legal. The group incorporated as a non-profit organization, launched a GoFundMe page and retained the services of a lawyer with the intention of suing the State of Michigan if necessary. Lansing’s attorney, Peter Ruddell, sent a letter on Monday to new MDHHS director Elizabeth Hertel, asking her to cancel the extension and stick with the reopening of contact sports on February 1.
This letter yielded no results at Monday afternoon’s press conference, when Whitmer has confirmed that the extension remains in place. This fact will likely lead Let Them Play to take legal action and ask the courts to settle the case, McElvany said.
“These cases don’t usually go well, but it’s always good to lobby,” said McElvany, a business owner from Monroe and mother of a high school athlete in Milan. “(Ruddell) is optimistic because we have so much data. It’s very specific, very compelling, and it’s their own data. This is what sets us apart from what other cases have done.
McElvany expects Saturday’s rally to shine a light on his group’s cause. The statewide outcry has grown since Friday’s overtime, bringing more voice to the fight. Not only has Let Them Play membership grown by over 6,500 Facebook followers since the announcement, but youth organizations, coaching associations and others have become more active.
“We’re getting a much bigger response from coaches and DAs,” she said. “They are excited and ready to fight. Until now, most of them weren’t willing to say a lot, but I think everyone is ultimately saying enough is enough.
The Michigan Wrestling Association and the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan are among the groups that have sent official letters to the governor pleading for the re-establishment of contact sports. Nikolai P. Vitti, community district superintendent of Detroit Public Schools, also asked Governor Whitmer to reconsider in a letter she shared with MLive.
“Most of us supported the suspension of winter sports in November and December, but this delay is now unnecessary and is causing undue hardship to our student-athletes,” he wrote. “Our families have analyzed the risk of gambling and they want to play. As you know, it’s the same feeling across the state among thousands of players, coaches and families. “
Let Them Play points to data collected by the MHSAA and MDHHS that suggests COVID-19 is not significantly spreading through athletics. The MHSAA said only 2% of its fall sports activities were canceled due to positive tests. When athletes took part in a pilot testing program to complete soccer, volleyball and swimming tournaments in January, 99.6% of the tests were negative.
All states bordering Michigan have already resumed contact sports at the high school level.
All in all, the Let Them Play group believes they have a case to litigate, and they hope to be heard on the Capitol steps on Saturday or in courtrooms in Lansing in the coming week.