(WMXI) — After a November 15 shutdown from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the governor's office, winter sports were put on hold.
On Saturday, just over two months later, boys and girls basketball, ice hockey, wrestling and competitive cheer were all able to get started with non-contact practices.
WE are back! 🔥 up CHIX! pic.twitter.com/NQlehr7yH0— Zeeland East Sports (@chixsports) January 16, 2021
While the season being pushed back and non-contact practices weren't what players and coaches were hoping for, they're all thankful to be back under one roof and practicing together.
Some teams like Forest Hills Northern boys basketball opted to go with a midnight madness practice to get the season tipped off.
"It was certainly the most unique basketball experience we have ever been around," Huskies head coach, Joe Soules said in a tweet, "it was amazing to be with the student-athletes and other coaches."
Also on the boys basketball side, the Rockford Rams are hoping to build off of an impressive finish to the 2019-20 season with district victories over Forest Hills Central and Northview, prior to the season being ended.
"It was so great to be back in the gym, it hit differently," said Rams head coach, Kyle Clough. "As I told our team, sometimes in life, you don't know what you have until you lose it. Everyone lost this for a while and I think across the state, we all probably smiled a little more than usual today."
And Clough says he's excited about the talent on his team as they hope to compete in the tough OK Red.
"I really like this team," he added, "we have a lot of experience and some really nice new additions. They're going to be fun to coach."
Also in the OK Red, the Caledonia boys basketball team is coming off of a nine win season which matched the highest win total for the Scots since the 2012-13 season.
Head coach Phil Visser and his players are just happy to be back.
"Being able to get back in the gym with some of the guys was incredible," said senior guard, Koby VanderWoude, "seeing the hard work that was put in during the off time finally paying off was a relief and a blessing."
And fellow senior Andrew Larson is excited to hit the court with his teammates as well.
"It feels great to get back out there with all the guys," Larson added, "I'm super proud to be on a team that is ready to take on any challenge in our way, big or small."
Meanwhile, for first-year head coaches like Hopkins girls basketball coach, David Flowers, the past two months have been a lot to process.
"It felt amazing being back in the gym with the girls," Flowers told FOX 17, "This whole COVID-19 situation has been so stressful for everyone, particularly someone like myself that is a first-time varsity coach."
Flowers also adds that the pandemic has taught him a lot through all of the ups and downs.
"This situation has really reminded me of why I coach and that's for the relationship that I build with these kids," he added.
"I was devastated initially when I found out the pause extended, but then to find out we were still at least able to hold non-contact practice, I was definitely grateful and excited for that," said Flowers.
Other teams like the East Grand Rapids girls basketball program have lofty goals once again this season after a 22-1 record last season before it was canceled.
Head coach Troy Hammond returns veteran guards like Jillian Brown and Alli Carlson to lead the way and he says he couldn't wait to get the girls back together in the same gym.
"It's a big deal to be back," Hammond said, "even with the restrictions. It's something the kids need and frankly, the coaches need it, too. We're happy to comply with the restrictions fully if it allows us to be together as a group.
Today’s the best day I’ve had in two months. Even with restrictions, it’s such a blessing to get the team back together in the gym.— Troy Hammond (@CoachTHammond) January 16, 2021
For the Northview hockey program, head coach Travis Nichol opted to get the puck dropped on the season with a midnight practice at Griff's IceHouse at Belknap.
"It was a great feeling to be back on the ice with the boys last night," Nichol said. "As soon as the clock hit midnight, we started. The boys were as happy as I've seen them in months, they are so excited to finally get off of Zoom meetings and get back to work together."
And Nothview hockey junior captain Camden Bormes agrees.
"Being able to be back on the ice surrounded by teammates and friends was the best thing I have been able to do for a long time," Bormes told FOX 17, "just the feeling of ice under my feet is the greatest thing in the world."
For the Lowell wrestling team, they'll be back to practice on Monday after several wrestlers traveled to Tennessee to compete in a tournament without the Lowell coaches.
"Our guys competed in a tournament in Tennessee and are on their way back home now, we will be at practice on Monday," head wrestling coach, R.J. Boudro told FOX 17.
All in all, while the decision to delay the start of winter sports to Feb. 1st isn't what they wanted, the players and coaches are thankful to get back to non-contact practices.
As it currently stands, contact practices can begin on Feb. 1st for all winter sports.