Brighton AD calls athletic mask mandate ‘unenforceable’

John Thompson, athletic director, Brighton Area Schools

First off, know this: John Thompson doesn’t have a dog in the political battle over wearing masks.

“I wear a mask,” he said. “I try to be a role model and I’m happy to do that, followed the guidelines, those type of things.”

But the Brighton Area Schools athletic director took a public stand last week on a series of conflicting executive orders that have roiled high school athletics in Michigan and the process by which they were arrived at.

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order that allowed boys soccer, girls swimming and volleyball to be played in the state this year. It came after weeks of delay, and ordered the wearing of masks in soccer and volleyball during competition. It also read that cross country, girls golf and boys tennis athletes would have to wear masks after not having been mandated for the fall season until then.

“I cannot make sense of this unenforceable mandate,” he wrote in an open letter emailed to media outlets last Thursday. “You are trading one concern in which data shows has minimal impact on kids for another risk that god (sic) forbid could cause a kid an even greater harm.”

The concern Thompson mentioned is the potential for difficulty breathing for soccer and volleyball players during the course of competition.

Thompson backed up his assertion with a video sent to him by Brighton and Howell gymnastics coach Nancy Gregory.
In it, a female gymnast practicing a floor routine while wearing a neck gaiter lost sight when the gaiter slipped over her head during a flip, resulting in her landing on her back on a padded floor. She got up immediately, but the concern remains.

In an email to Whitmer’s office, Thompson wrote, “This goes to one of the many safety and wellness concerns about masks and athletics. This could happen in a number of gymnastics, cheer, pole vaulting and a number of other instances during competitive athletic practices and contests. … The cure should not be worse than the disease.”

Another of Thompson’s concerns is inconsistency in regulations for youth sports. Some are aimed at high school sports while not applicable to travel teams, for example.

“I struggle with the mask restrictions that weren’t put in place (by the state) and haven’t been in place all spring and summer as youth and travel teams have been playing high-risk sports, such as lacrosse, to medium- to lower-risk sports,” he said.

In his letter to Whitmer, Thompson wrote “you allowed Little League baseball and all kinds of recreational and travel sports, including those characterized as ‘high risk’ to go on all summer long: No masks, no restrictions, no enforcement and (you) ignored the topic.

“All this,” he continued, “while your good-faith partner, the (Michigan High School Athletic Association) has patiently worked with your office. .. Now, it’s different, and by default all of the kids and adults they serve are treated differently. … Will you now require masks for  … adults or kids who play recreational flag football? How about the local running groups who gather in my community and run together? What about field hockey (a non-MHSAA sponsored sport) which is played in (Michigan) schools in the fall?”

Delays in getting guidance from the state on both fall sports as well as funding for schools also came in for criticism.

“The governor, her staff, and to be fair, government as a whole knew when schools started,” he said. “As for fall school sports starting, that date was known too. These things did not sneak up on the governor, her staff, or anyone else.”

Thompson also expressed concern for the winter sports season, with its set of challenges.

But he also criticized the governor’s office for its handling of fall sports.

“Does the Governor and her staff know when the first day for school winter sports begin?” he asked. “it’s currently slotted for 11/2/20. Should we expect more executive orders on 11/2/20 regarding winter sports? This new EO (regarding fall sports) is not even 7 (sic) days old and required a new EO, released in the evening and still does not clarify anything. This is sloppy and erodes public confidence.”

In a phone conversation, Thompson said he appreciates the difficulty Whitmer and her office faces.

“It’s not a political thing,” he said. “It’s a taking-care-of-kids thing for me. I have many concerns about the decision, not only the decision itself but the process in making it, the process of explaining it and trying to provide guidance for schools the state government is responsible for.”

Thompson says that while it’s true some athletes are wearing masks, “sometimes elite athletes work on oxygen differentiation and increasing their (oxygen) levels and those type of things. I work with 12- to 18-year-olds.”

The American Association of Pediatricans has stated face coverings may cause safety concerns for young athletes, the World Health Organization recommends against cloth face coverings for vigorous exercise and the Center for Disease Control cautions that athletes in high intensity activity may not be able to wear a face covering.

All recommend face masks for coaches, officials and athletes who are on the sideline.

Michigan is the only state in the U.S. that is requiring masks for participants in fall sports, which also includes football.

In his Thursday open letter, Thompson invited Whitmer or his office to call him, leaving his cell number.

As of Thursday night, “my question still stands,” he said.

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