Grant Saincome and Easton Hood have played football every fall since elementary school. But this year, when they first faced the prospect of not competing in the sport they love, they joined the cross country team to stay in shape.
It was a good experience in many ways, they agree. But the Comstock Park High School students are glad they’ll be back on the gridiron for this Friday’s opening game against Belding, now that football is back on in Michigan schools.
“I did run a cross country meet and placed in the top 20 out of 70,” Easton said, “but I am going to focus on football, which I enjoy more.”
They weren’t the only student athletes to switch sports for a minute, after the Michigan High School Athletic Association canceled fall football in mid-August due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus. But on Sept. 3 the MHSAA reinstated a shortened football season, along with other competitive sports authorized by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with restrictions such as spectator limits and wearing masks if safe distancing is not possible.
While health and safety must come first, restoring all fall sports bolsters students’ and communities’ hopes “for a return of some normalcy,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said in a statement announcing the decision.
“Given the challenges of online education in many school districts across the state, providing sports and a daily routine may be more important than ever in motivating students and providing a safe outlet for physical activity, competition and socialization,” Uyl said.
Benefits of Staying Active
Grant, a junior, said that joining the cross country team was the best thing he could do under the circumstances. He did some running over the summer with a friend training for a triathlon.
“It’s all right, although it definitely takes a lot more endurance,” said Grant, comparing football to cross country. Grant, in his third year on varsity as a linebacker, rejoined the team at the first practice on Sept. 8.
Although he could also compete in cross country meets, he will focus on football. He said he will gladly rejoin the cross country team if football season is shut down again.
Easton, a freshman, planned to try out for safety on the football team. He had decided to join cross country to stay in shape for basketball, and was running 45 minutes every weekday with the team in preparation for meets on 3.1-mile courses.
Anyone for Tennis?
James Pefley, a junior, has been playing football since second grade. This fall he joined the tennis team, joining a friend who also plays on the team. But when football came back James rejoined the team as a center and defensive tackle.
He said there’s more technique in tennis compared to football, but tennis is less physically demanding. Still, he admits “it’s hard to keep (the ball) on the court.”
“I’m going to resume football and play tennis when I can,” James said. He is excited that football is back, even though his team has had less preparation time than usual for the Sept. 18 game against Belding.
Cross country coach Aaron Peoples said he wishes the football players luck in whatever sport they choose to compete.
“I’ve enjoyed their willingness to have the courage to try something else,” Peoples said.
Peoples has coached both football and cross country during his career, and notes vast differences in the two sports and a totally different mindset for coaching them.
“In football you’re going to spend a lot of time both preparing for what you do well and fix what you don’t do well, while preparing for what the other team does well and what they don’t do well,” he said.
A cross country coach, on the other hand, prepares team members for what they can do well but there’s nothing they can do about the other squad, he said.
“The starter fires the pistol at the beginning. The most you can do for the athletes is remind them how close they are to another kid and give positive encouragement,” Peoples said.
If COVID-19 cases rise and the football season doesn’t work out, Peoples said he would gladly welcome the athletes back to cross country.
There won’t be big student sections at the football games, with only two tickets per athlete allowed for spectators under Whitmer’s executive order. Masks will be required, and referees will use an electronic style of whistle and wear gloves, according to Peoples. Teams will spread out more on the sideline.
A Motivator for School
At Wyoming High School, meanwhile, quarterback and linebacker Logan Boukma was one of a few football players who decided to pick up a racquet and join the tennis team after the MHSAA called timeout on the gridiron.
Logan, a junior, found himself playing fourth singles, practicing his forehand and backhand strokes and delivering a speedy serve.
“I learned a lot about tennis, how to serve, how to score it, how to take care of the courts,” he said. “I had a lot of fun with it. It was easy to pick up.”
For Logan, who also plays baseball, sidelining himself from another season of athletics just wasn’t happening if he could help it.
“I was just trying to stay active, hang out with some friends and do something. (Sports) give me a reason to do good in school.”
But, now, he’s re-laced his football cleats and is ready for the team’s first game Friday, at Zeeland East. It’s later than usual, but he’s thrilled it’s happening. “I’m glad we are doing it, even with masks.”
Still, he plans to continue heading to the tennis court some evenings with friends, working to perfect that ace.