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Sep. 23—TRAVERSE CITY — The lull in COVID-19 intersecting with area high school sports seems to be lessening.

Scenarios playing out at other school districts around northern Michigan are why Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education trustees voted in late August to require indoor universal masking for all K-12 students and staff through this coming Monday.

TCAPS Treasurer Matt Anderson said at the Aug. 20 board meeting that mandating masks, including for student-athletes not actively participating in competition, would allow the district to get “more local data about what is actually happening.”

TCAPS Board President Scott Newman-Bale said Wednesday he feels better and better about the decision, especially with regard to athletics, after seeing what has transpired in Kalkaska, Charlevoix and other districts. TCAPS athletics have so far been relatively unscathed, and Newman-Bale said allowing sports to continue as normally as possible while keeping students and staff safe played a big role in the decision to require masks.

“So far, we’ve found a nice balance,” he said.

On Monday, TCAPS trustees are set to discuss if the mandate will continue. Newman-Bale said he does not know where the other trustees currently stand on the issue and hasn’t spoken to any of them about it the last 10 days. However, he said his gut is telling him the mask policy is likely to be extended.

“But it was also pretty clear that a lot of the board members don’t feel good about indefinite masking without significant data and guidance,” Newman-Bale said, adding that he’s not sure what way he’s leaning on the debate. “I want to do it in a safe and responsible manner, and my personal feeling is that we’re probably going to need more time.”

Tuesday’s Boyne City volleyball game at Charlevoix was canceled because of positive COVID-19 cases at Charlevoix, Ramblers athletic director Adam Stefanski said.

The Rayders, who moved basketball games last winter for the same reason, rescheduled the volleyball game for an Oct. 7 makeup date in Charlevoix. The Rayders are now off until a Sept. 28 match at Kalkaska, which had COVID issues of its own the last week.

Last week’s Kalkaska football game at Grayling didn’t happen because of low numbers from contact tracing.

The Blazers also canceled a Tuesday volleyball game with Traverse City St. Francis and a tri match with Traverse City Christian and Benzie Central on Thursday, both related to COVID. TC Christian and Benzie Central went on and scheduled a single match against each other at Benzie, Sabres coach Katelyn Shaffran said. The TCSF match isn’t rescheduled yet, but will be, according to Gladiators athletic director Aaron Biggar.

Kalkaska football coach Jeremy Wilkinson said Friday’s road game against Mancelona is on as scheduled. The Blazers were down to 12 players last week because of quarantines, Wilkinson said, but they all were able to return Tuesday to practice.

A flareup of 40 positive COVID-19 cases within Kalkaska Public Schools and confirmed among students, staff members and coaches forced the district to institute a mask mandate. However, the KPS Board of Education voted Monday to rescind the order and return to a mask-optional policy.

Kalkaska Public Schools Superintendent Rick Heitmeyer said the athletics programs are “looking better” — despite the 40 positive COVID-19 cases — and are close to having all of the affected coaches and student-athletes back in the mix.

“We just got hit all of a sudden. It all happened fast, but I believe we’re going to have our football game this Friday and get our other games back on track,” he said. “We want to keep the kids in school. That’s the bottom line.”

Heitmeyer said the board’s decision to rescind the mandate came down to difficulty enforcing it without an order from a state or local governing body.

“There’s not a lot of teeth in a school mask mandate,” he said. “There’s nothing easy about any of this stuff. We’re in the third school year of this.”

Bear Lake’s football team faces receiving a forfeit win from Engadine on Oct. 2 after that school district announced Tuesday it was going virtual and shutting down all athletics through Oct. 4 in response to positive COVID-19 tests.

Lakers head coach John Prokes said the team is looking to pick up a Week Six game, but hasn’t found anyone with an open date yet.

“I wasn’t looking forward to a four-hour bus ride,” Prokes said. “But we didn’t want a forfeit. You want to play all your opponents.”

Gaylord’s masking policy inside all K-12 school buildings includes home volleyball matches.

Cadillac visits the Blue Devils on Thursday, and Vikings head coach Michelle Brines said she wasn’t sure what to expect, as far as whether the players will have to mask up the whole time or not.

Currently, many schools make spectators and players and coaches not actively playing wear masks during indoor activities, which only impacts volleyball and swimming among fall sports.

“Yeah, so that’s great,” Brines said. “That’s another challenge.”

About 75 Gaylord High School students walked two weeks ago out in protest over the mask requirement.

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