LANSING, Mich. — Thousands of people rallied for high school sports outside the Michigan Capitol at midday Saturday.
The Let Them Play rally was billed as a "Peaceful Protest" and was organized by Coopersville senior basketball player, Ethan Coady.
"It's awesome, it really shows you how many people are behind you and support what you're doing," Coady told FOX 17, "it's a really great feeling too know this many people care about getting our season back."
A crowd estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000 adults and youngsters assembled before the rally started at noon.
"It's crazy - I didn't think this many people would come," said Mayen Woo, a Tri-Unity senior basketball player, "it's good that everyone is supporting us to play."
More photos of the ‘Let Them Play’ rally at the state capitol. pic.twitter.com/ywYcniTQLU— Zach Harig (@FOX17Zach) January 30, 2021
Shortly after that, a group of high school athletes took the podium with their messages and pleas to resume winter contact sports.
"I think we're fighting for a good cause," added Sam Krist, a senior basketball player from Rockford, "we're not just fighting for a good cause and we're not just fighting for ourselves or our teammates, but for the whole state of Michigan."
Even though surrounding states are finishing up their winter sports seasons, Michigan's winter sports teams have not been allowed to even begin practicing. Last Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the further delay of the start of winter practices until the end of February.
"It's really hard for me because I could have a big opportunity in my future for wrestling," said Constantine senior wrestler, Bo Eckman, "I could get scholarships."
For others, it's about mental health.
"Basketball for me is a therapy," addedd Tri-Unity Christian boys basketball senior, Austin Treece, "some people have mental health disorders and stuff like that, and it's just a way for me to get my head out of the gutter."
The coaches, superintendents and athletic directors in attendance like Rockford boys basketball coach, Kyle Clough say they understand the seriousness of COVID-19, but also add that the players need sports.
"This is not an easy decision to be made for the people that are making them," Clough told FOX 17 during the rally, "I think my job, as a coach, is to be here for our guys and support them. We want it to be safe and we understand the reality of what COVID really is, but we also know the mental impact it's having on our kids."
This week the Michigan Legislature conducted hearings on the issue. Coady was among those who addressed the lawmakers.
Public Information Officer Bob Wheaton with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released this statement in response to the rally:
"The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will continue to make data-focused decisions that protect public health. While there is not a timeline to share, the department is having conversations with stakeholders including education, athletic, and grassroots groups on best practices and the safest steps forward related to resuming contact sports in the near future. MDHHS also remains laser focused on its goal of vaccinating at least 70 percent of Michiganders age 16 and up with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible so we can end this pandemic and get back to a sense of normalcy."
FOX 17 had a crew on the scene at Saturday's rally. Watch FOX 17 News at 10 and 11 tonight for video and complete coverage.