The scene on the football field at East Lansing High School following the Trojans’ 42-14 throttling of Portage Northern High School is a familiar one.
The Trojans mobbed around each other, hoisting their district championship trophy, dozens of hands stretching up to touch it. Players snapped pictures with their position groups, celebrated with a back flip, or did interviews with the various reporters.
With the win, the Trojans (8-0) stayed undefeated and propelled themselves to a regional matchup with powerhouse Muskegon Mona Shores (9-0). Then, on Sunday evening, reality set in.
Taking effect on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 12:01 a.m., new statewide Covid-19 restrictions mean a game originally slated for tonight will now be on for early December — if the restrictions work to quell pervasive community spread of Covid-19 in Michigan.
Following the resulting delay, Head Coach Bill Feraco expressed to ELi his pride in his team. From navigating through the issues of Covid-19, to collectively deciding to kneel during the national anthem each game, to beating every team on the schedule to date, this year’s team is as deserving of its moment as any.
But for now, at least, the Trojans must wait to play with a trip to the state semifinals on the line.
“I don’t know how fair or unfair you can say it is,” Feraco said. “I’m not even going to worry about that because I know right now we’ve got three weeks to prepare for our next competition. I hope that on Dec. 8, the science tells us that we can move on.”
Feraco supported players’ taking a stand by taking a knee.
The players collectively, prior to the season, decided they were going to kneel for the national anthem to make a statement about addressing police brutality and racism.
Feraco supported them entirely.
Knowing that he and his staff consistently try to talk to the players about things “beyond the realm of football” and seeing this was something important to the players, they were committed to it, and it was not a “knee-jerk thing.”
“There was some very, very deep reflection going into this,” he said.
Feraco also said the importance of the message — both generally and to his players — wasn’t lost on him, nor the courage of the action itself.
“I don’t think you turn a blind eye to things like that. Certainly I don’t think anybody was in, in any way, shape, or form, intimidated or anything like that,” he said. “This was just a consensus, and a consensus you may not totally agree with, but you’ll go along with because, because that is what the group wants to do.”
He continued: “I trust their judgment, and I don’t look at it as being particularly disrespectful.”
The final chapter of the season hangs in the balance.
Now, Feraco and his coaching staff will have to lean on that trust with their players as their activities move to virtual spaces again. Players and coaches are meeting virtually, and players have been given workout and conditioning activities to do on their own, hopefully, Feraco said, to stay near game shape.
At a few points during the summer, similar restrictions were in place due to Covid, but players could more readily meet and workout independently in small groups, and ultimately, the team managed to get practices done while respecting Covid-19 restrictions.
After making it through the summer and early fall to the start of the season, the Trojans first game against Portage Central in mid-September was cancelled due to a Covid-19 outbreak among the other team.
“I think this is just another thing that’s been thrown at us,” Feraco said. “And when I say us, I mean everybody that’s in this. It’s not just East Lansing High School, you know, it’s everybody. This is just another thing to deal with.”
Feraco is hopeful people will abide by the new restrictions and that the surge in Covid cases can be turned around. He wants his team to get its shot at the next round of the playoffs but offered a dose of perspective on how, and why, they can get there.
“I can promise you this: We are going to do what we were asked to do, and we’re going to do it to the best of our ability. And that’s what we tell the kids often. No one could demand anything more than your best, make sure you know what your best is,” Feraco said. “So we’ve got to continue to be safe. We’ve got to sacrifice, because everybody, not just East Lansing High School football, but everybody in this country or everybody internationally, really is sacrificing things.”
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