Like every high school basketball coach in Michigan, Shane Lawal just wants to see his players get the opportunity to compete. As head coach of the Detroit Renaissance girls basketball team, Lawal has many reasons to get back on the court.
With a senior-laden team, Lawal knows this winter is the last chance for many of his players to earn scholarships and just enjoy the end of their high school sports careers. Also, Renaissance is considered a contender to win the program’s first state title since 2005 after it went 22-2 last season before the Division 1 tournament was canceled before the region finals.
But according to Lawal, one of his key reasons to get back on the court is not one that is shared or experienced by everyone. In his eyes, the current shutdown has amplified athlete inequities between different districts and regions in the state when it comes to affluency.
“From the start, I feel like the conversation was being too one-sided,” Lawal said. “… I was feeling like the conversation, there was a lot of people who weren’t in the situation speaking on how it wasn’t good for kids who weren’t affluent or kids in poor neighborhoods. I think it’s really important to understand that it’s a real thing.”
The goal of the lawsuit filed on Tuesday by the Let Them Play group against Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Elizabeth Hertel is to get athletes of winter contact sports back to competing as soon as possible. In the lawsuit’s summary, Lawal is listed as providing an affidavit included among “additional evidence,” briefly described as Lawal providing his “observation on the disparate impact the MDHHS Emergency Order is having on his students, who are primarily racial minorities.”
Since the shutdown of winter sports competition for boys and girls basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and competitive cheer began back in November, Lawal has supported the Let Them Play movement while his player have actively posted #LetThemPlay pleas on social media.
Lawal said he understands the shutdown that ended Renaissance’s season prematurely last March, but he now believes there is enough evidence to let the kids play safely. Should there be any further delay, Lawal said some kids in struggling households and neighborhoods will begin to lose out on their only opportunities to attend college.
“But to come around and go through all these things that we went to just to get to this point, where nobody seems to understand that kids are going to lose their opportunities,” Lawal said. “It’s not about smart or dumb. There are smart kids who cannot financially afford a chance to get that good (college) education.
“I played with a few guys who, if it weren’t for basketball, they wouldn’t be able to get a great career in life. Opportunities matter.”
Lawal said he believes one of his seniors, Audrianna Hill, has NCAA Division II-level talent or better. Yet, without being able to show her improvement on the basketball while the sport remains restricted by the MDHHS, Lawal believes some scholarship opportunities will dwindle as college coaches will start looking elsewhere to fill their recruiting classes.
Lawal said coaches are not going to wait for Michigan athletes if they can explore recruiting options elsewhere.
“That’s my frustration,” Lawal said. “I talk to a lot of college coaches and I talk about Audrianna and I talk about other kids, but I have nothing to show them. So, the conversation is pointless.”
As an example, Lawal cited a letter by former Romulus boys basketball coach and current Alabama men’s basketball coach Nate Oats that supports the Let Them Play goal. In the note, Oats said, “We are currently recruiting a handful of Michigan kids within our program and the inability to be able to see their progress in game film is making it impossible for us to evaluate them. With games being played in almost every other state, it is forcing us to put the recruitment of Michigan athletes on hold. As everyone knows, there is not an infinite number of scholarship opportunities and without question this is limiting Michigan players.”
Even beyond the scholarship players, Lawal still said inequities continue to be amplified for any athletes living in difficult neighborhoods.
“Remove the scholarship piece of it, what about the JV kid that lives in a not-so-great neighborhood that can’t afford sports and can’t afford the chance to be physically active and mentally stimulated outside of basketball?” Lawal asked. “You take (basketball) away from her and now she has to sit in her environment 24-7, and you expect her to survive in that environment but you don’t give her the opportunity to increase her mental health and to increase her physical wellbeing? That’s asinine to me.”