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Let Them Play Michigan files suit against MDHHS

Photo by Jayme McElvany. Author's photo added.

By Calli Townsend

Michigan’s high school athletes, along with their parents, coaches, and school administrators, continue to fight for their winter sports seasons.

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, the Let Them Play Michigan group filed suit against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Elizabeth Hertel for the postponement of winter sports.

The fight began on Jan. 25 when the MHSAA announced plans to further postpone winter contact sports, including basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey, and wrestling, as told to do so by the MDHHS.

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The next day, Let Them Play Michigan, led by Michigan mother and business owner Jayme McElvany, started a GoFundMe page to raise $50,000 to hire a lawyer to take legal action.

The group raised the money within 24 hours and hired Peter Ruddell of the Detroit-based Honigman LLP firm. On Jan. 28, they presented their case to Michigan’s Senate and House.

“We raised over $50,000 in one day in our group on Facebook to take legal action against the State of Michigan,” McElvany said during the hearing at the House. “We are moving forward with filing a lawsuit, I already have a lawyer. If this state doesn’t move forward and take care of these kids, I will use that money to pay for these kids to go out of state and play sports.”

The House and Senate approved the case and the group filed with the Michigan Court of Claims on Tuesday. 

Republican Sen. Dale Zorn of Lenawee and Monroe Counties spoke with Fox 2 in support of the movement.

“I’m sad to think that parents have to sue to get these opportunities for these kids,” Zorn said. “It just seems like the governor has picked and chose the winners and losers during this whole pandemic.”

McElvany started the Let Them Play Michigan group on Facebook in August to bring athletes and families together to rally for resuming high school sports. Within the group, members share information, updates, and videos regarding their desire for sports. They also coordinate rallies in Michigan’s capitol.

Most recently, they rallied in Lansing on Saturday. An estimated 2,0000 people gathered to urge the MDHHS and the MHSAA allow high school sports to start before Feb. 21. Several athletes and teams spoke in front of the crowds on the importance of athletics as part of their high school experience, and future education and careers. 

Even former Detroit Red Wings player Darren McCarty spoke at the event.

“Please governor, go to the science, or give us an explanation,” McCarty said. “We’ve done everything you’ve ever wanted us to do. Please let them play.”

Jordan Noll of Croswell, Michigan, is mother to four kids, including a high school senior, attended Saturday’s rally with some of her friends.

“I feel like it was wonderful and motivational to have all those people together, but at the same time it was heartbreaking,” she said. “I could hardly not cry when I heard the stories of the seniors and it made me think of Joe and this being his last year and that he might never play basketball in his last year. It was really heartbreaking.”

Michigan is one of the few states to not yet allow winter sports, and it’s affecting more than just the athletes’ desire for competition. For some students, playing a sport is the only motivation they have for going to school, and for many, high school sports are the stepping stone to move on to the college level and earn degrees.

Student-athletes are missing out on opportunities to build character, make friends, earn championships, and do something that makes them proud.

“Our governor has messed with these kids’ heads. It makes you want to move the whole school to a different state,” Noll said. “It’s frustrating and angering to me how our governor doesn’t care. The fact that she was skiing at Boyne Mountain while we were trying to make our voices heard is ridiculous.”

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