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Legality of Michigan HS Sports Shutdown Challenged

Paul Steinbach

A lawsuit seeks to clarify whether the COVID-19 guidance issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was validly announced and if it has any binding legal effect on high school student-athletes.

As reported by mlive.com, attorney Peter Ruddell filed the suit against MDHHS on behalf of Let Them Play Michigan Inc. and three parents of Michigan high school athletes. It's the latest legal step taken by Let Them Play, a grassroots group of parents, athletes, coaches and fans who have advocated for the full return of high school sports since the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Let Them Play was part of a lawsuit filed against the state in February, calling for the return of the then-paused winter sports season. The suit was dropped when the MDHHS issued guidance that allowed for the Feb. 8 return of winter sports.

In a memo, Ruddell said that a letter was sent March 26 asked MDHHS director Elizabeth Hertel to identify the legal authority under which the guidance was issued and to clarify if it was legally binding on any Michigan citizen. He said Hertel's April 1 response was insufficient.

“She did not identify the legal authority for announcing the guidance but wrote that ‘MDHHS expects the Interim Guidance for Athletics to be followed as directed by the emergency order,’ ” Ruddell wrote.

“For more than a year, student-athletes have endured unilateral orders enacted by Executive Branch officials that severely restrict their ability to freely associate with one another and compete in high school sports,” the suit reads, according to mlive.

“For these athletes, participation in high school sports is crucial to their physical and mental health, essential for maintenance and advancement of their athletic skills, invaluable to their training, and the irreplaceable source of opportunities to associate with peers and mentors.”

An MDHHS spokesperson said Thursday that the organization would not comment on pending litigation.

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