Their seasons were in limbo, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but recent relaxing of public health rules lets players back into the basketball gyms.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan winter contact sports have returned, and AAU Basketball clubs around the state now have an idea of the direction of the near future.
Elementary, middle and high school teams in Michigan have begun play, after months without official games. The green light, given by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and health officials last month, means Michigan AAU travel clubs can now schedule competitions as long as they implement strict COVID-19 protocols.
The Mid-Michigan Wolves, a non-profit basketball organization, started team practices and out-of-state travel. Danielle Howell, the vice president of the Mid-Michigan Wolves, said that other than a league based in Jackson, the club has only been competing out-of-state.
“There are a couple lower grade teams that have been competing out-of-state — a seventh grade boys’ team and actually, a fifth grade boys’ team has just picked up a league in Jackson,” Howell said. “But everything’s been delayed, so other than that, just more out-of-state play is what we’ve been focusing on.”
Howell said gym time has been limited for the club, with teams only practicing about once a week.
“We haven’t really been able to schedule any gym time other than what we are able to through church,” she said. “We’ve been just playing out-of-state — Indiana is basically where we’ve been going, and we did have another seventh grade team that we picked up because there’s not many other organizations that are trying to compete out-of-state. It’s been definitely, I would say, challenging, but I think we’re trying to do what’s best and what we need to do for the teams that are willing and able to play with all the safety precautions.”
The Wolves were responsible for taking its own COVID-19 safety measures. Howell said such measures varied for teams and parents, but other protocols were to be consistent.
“Obviously we have to make sure that we’re the only team in the gym, and we all have to wear our masks and then make sure that we clean up after ourselves,” she said. “I think it’s just a way of life now, but I feel like it’s definitely a different way; we’re just learning it the best we can.”
With the weight of the pandemic, Wolves expects a decrease in teams come springtime, according to Howell.
“We went from having, I think, 10 teams last season to now we will, after the high school teams are finished playing hopefully by spring, we’ll have, I think, five — I’m not saying that there won’t be more — but a lot of people have stopped playing or are waiting to decide to play after all of this kind of settles down,” Howell said.
Competition and involvement in athletics is crucial, especially for youths who are passionate about a specific sport. Howell said Wolves felt the loss that its players have experienced.
“I think that as an organization, we miss it for the kids, because I don’t know if anyone realizes how therapeutic or how much of an outlet these sports are for the youth,” she said. "I think that they thrive on this opportunity to be able to compete at a higher level; it brings different opportunities for even older and younger kids, and I think that it’s definitely, I would say, mentally and physically taking a toll more than anything.”
Howell added, “I think that we would also like to see them grow and thrive and be in a space where they’re meeting new friends, and it definitely keeps them where they need to be in focus and centered for sure.”
Clubs like Prospectors Basketball, located in Lansing, have already started competing.
Marcus Wourman, the owner/coach of Prospectors, said his club is taking safeguards while playing.
“We are wiping down equipment usage during practices, in-between practices, each night when we have to sanitize the floor after practice, and then obviously, when days are permitted – when it is not too cold out – we even prop open our doors to keep a circulation of fresh air,” Wourman said.
Prospectors still made it a priority to condition together during the club’s COVID-19 mandated pause.
“I would send out a group text to our parents, and I think we organized it like Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays,” Wourman said. “We would just meet up at the Hawk Island there on Jolly Road. We would run until we could pretty much because it started getting dark early at that time. We would pretty much be able to go from like 4:30 to 5:30 with outdoor conditioning to stay engaged.”
Wourman said that Prospectors Basketball mainly competes in Brighton, with hopes of participating in other events in April.
“To get back in the gym obviously was very, very good,” he said. “Kids were excited and obviously, it’s nice to — even though you can’t see the kids smile — you actually can see their face light up because they’re able to do something they enjoy doing.”
Flint’s Finest Basketball Club is also scheduling for the future, as the club posted some team sign-ups on its Facebook page back in February. The club did not respond to WKAR Current Sports’ attempts for interviews.