COVID-19 has made everything uncertain, including high school sports seasons. For months, student-athletes, coaches, and parents have been speculating, hoping, and worrying about whether the sports seasons will begin this year, and finally the news is out! Time to see how the Illinois High School Sports Association (IHSA) plans to condense 25 sports seasons into about four months. . .
On January 27, the IHSA finally held a board meeting to discuss the schedule for high school sports for the remainder of the year. IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson stated in the announcement that the board was focused on giving every student-athlete the opportunity to compete safely and “maximizing opportunities for traditional IHSA spring sports after they lost their entire season a year ago.” They would do this all while still taking into account the risk levels of each sport and the local region mitigation statuses. This may explain why there is a possibility that these spring sports may have state playoffs, while it is out of the question for most of the traditional fall and winter sports.
Summary of Announcement
The board announced that boys’ and girls’ basketball, dance, cheerleading, boys’ and girls’ bowling, girls’ gymnastics, badminton, and boys’ swimming and diving can start practicing immediately. These sports, except for basketball, are considered to be low or moderate risk sports and they may begin competition as long as the school’s region is classified as Tier 2, Tier 1, or Phase 4. As of January 23, 2021, Regions 10 and 11 have been classified as Tier 1. This includes the City of Chicago and Suburban Cook County, so CPS and other schools in these regions do not have anything to worry about right now. Boys’ and girls’ basketball is considered “higher risk,” thus competition can only begin in regions that are in Phase 4, excluding Chicago at this time.
Boys’ soccer, football, girls’ volleyball, boys’ gymnastics, and boys’ and girls’ water polo are permitted to begin practices in early March. Baseball, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, girls’ soccer, softball, boys’ tennis, boys’ and girls’ track and field, boys’ volleyball and wrestling will all begin practicing in April. The start and end dates of each sport season and more details are described in the table below:
As stated in the IHSA guidelines, all athletes, officials, and coaches are required to wear masks at all times during competitions and must remain socially distanced. Swimmers, divers, and gymnasts on equipment are all exceptions to this rule.
The Board ruled in October that students that play football, boys’ soccer, or girls’ volleyball could participate in high school and non-school teams at the same time. This remains true, but girls’ and boys’ basketball players have to stop playing with their club team within seven days of their first school game.
Since the beginning of the school year, many athletes, including myself, lost hope for their sport season as the number of cases increased and the reality of the pandemic intensified. It is sad for McKenzie Washington, St. Ignatius ‘21, when she thinks about what has become of her senior year volleyball season, but she understands “that the pandemic will change a lot of things. I’m just grateful that we have this opportunity. I’m really glad that we have the chance to at least have some type of season because, as a senior, it is very meaningful, and I have been looking forward to this season since freshman year.”
With everything still uncertain, we are still not sure how this will actually happen. Chelsea Thorpe, 22’, is a volleyball player and believes “the IHSA continuing the volleyball season is a good choice for schools that are prepared to have it happen. There are many private schools that have been open since August, while CPS schools have not.” Thorpe wonders, “If CPS can’t have any kids in the classroom, how is it going to work with kids on the court?” This is a great question because the IHSA revealed the guidelines and the general rules everyone must abide by, but it is now up to each school district to determine how everything will be executed. This means that the quality of the season the players will have is still unknown.
Some athletes have to endure major changes to their sport because of the rules. Courtney Dillon, 21’, is a cheerleader and says “I’m happy that we’re at least doing something since it’s my senior year, but they’ve completely changed cheer. We’re not allowed to stunt or come anywhere near each other. I am not sure if we’ll even be cheering, it’s just dancing and tumbling. I completely get that we have to be safe, but some people on the team didn’t even see it as worth it because everything is so different. If it weren’t my senior year, I would probably be more upset about the changes, but I am just happy I’ll get to cheer one last time.”
Things are going to be different and far from ideal this year. I doubt athletes will truly feel satisfied with their season if they compare it to previous seasons, especially since fall sports that traditionally last 3 or 4 months will only have a little over a month to work with.
So there you have it, all of the student athletes will have a sports season. . . sort of. There will be many restrictions, such as wearing masks at all times and social distancing. Also, many things still remain unknown, such as what the plan of action would be if our region mitigation status worsens. The fact is that the sports seasons will not be the same, and when you think about it, we really do not know when anything will go back to “normal.” The only thing we can do now is look at the silver lining in all of this: we still do have the opportunity to compete. Although some teams might not be able to participate in state playoffs, we will just have to take advantage of all the opportunities we have to have fun and prove once again that Whitney Young is the real School of Champions.