Anderson: Schools and coaches can make additional tweaksAnderson recognizes that many schools and coaches will likely offer their own tweaks that would make things ‘better’ for their schools and sporting events. “Our board faced an impossible task with a litany of factors,” notes Anderson. “They were conscientious in considering every possibility and I believe their decisions today are a positive step for the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our students.” Anderson concludes his statement, “We are excited to channel our energy into creating as many positive experiences for Illinois high school students as we can between now and the end of this extraordinary school year.”
Timeline for all IHSA winter sportsSeven winter sports are currently holding practice sessions in anticipation of their season kick-offs. Of those in active competition within the region, these would include basketball and bowling. Per the risk guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), basketball is currently high-risk while bowling is low-risk. These sports will conclude their abbreviated seasons on March 13 with no State Series. Dependent on practice schedules, action can begin as early as February 3.
Spring sports timelineFive spring sports will hold practices in the month of March. Boys soccer, football, and girls volleyball start their respective practices on March 1, March 3, and March 8. Boys soccer and girls volleyball, both moderate-risk sports per IDPH, will begin competitive action following their seventh practice. Their seasons will be ending on April 17 and 24 respectively with no State Series. Meanwhile, football will begin its abbreviated season on March 19. Like some of the other sports, there will be no playoff action or State Series when it ends on April 24.
IHSA summer sports timelineSeven of eight summer sports will be starting practices on April 5, including baseball, girls soccer, softball, and track and field. Of these sports, girls soccer is considered a moderate risk by IDPH. Currently, the status is unknown of their respective State Series when their seasons conclude on June 19. The eighth sport, wrestling, starts practice sessions on April 19. Their season will begin following seven practices and will conclude on June 12 with no State Series. “The board wants to do everything in their power to prevent spring sports from going two consecutive years with no postseason IHSA play,” Anderson adds. “There are obviously no guarantees, as risk levels by sport and local region mitigation statuses will factor significantly.”
Precautions are being taken regarding potential postseason actionAny potential postseason action could likely have limitations to regional or sectional levels of competition. However, Anderson states that they’re not ruling out a full state tournament if it’s possible. “The overwhelming feedback we have heard from athletic directors and coaches was that returning to play in all sports should be the main goal,” Anderson said. Football is the only exception to practice requirements. They will need to participate in practice sessions on 12 different days prior to competition. All other sports have a seven-date requirement. Multiple practices on the same day will not impact that timeline. Student-athletes transitioning between sports will need to participate in 10 different practice sessions before their first contest. An example would be a student-athlete transitioning from basketball to football.
The impact of acclimatizationThe IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee would also issue a statement to student-athletes, coaches, and schools on the importance on the acclimatization throughout the season. “The IHSA SMAC reminds member schools that student-athletes may need additional conditioning in order to participate in a full schedule this season,” SMAC relays in its statement. “In addition to season/practice requirements, care needs to be given to each student’s individual acclimation as they return to play.” SMAC would advise schools that when building schedules, attention should be given to academic pressure, constant transitions between in-person and remote/distance learning, mitigation tier changes, travel time, practice times, etc. to ensure the student experience enhances the academic day.
Masks will be a requirement — with some exceptionsIHSA guidelines would include the requirement of wearing masks with some exceptions. An exception would include outdoor events where there can be adherence to physical distancing requirements. Game personnel not participating in contests should also wear masks and adhere to physical distancing requirements wherever possible. “We still have regions of the state that need to make strides in order to be able to play basketball this winter,” said Anderson. “That underscores the importance of our schools following all the mitigations and precautions.” “We need to maintain a positive trajectory not only to get winter sports going but to make sure we do not have any regions regress before spring and summer sports have their opportunity,” Anderson continues. “We can all do our part by wearing a mask and socially distancing.”
Consideration of participation opportunities for other regionsThe board would also agree to consider other participation opportunities for a given sport if unplayable in a specific region. “We have said from day one that if and when we were allowed to play again this year, the situation would be fluid,” said Anderson. “We don’t feel great about the notion of some schools falling behind based on their Region’s status, but also recognize that we are running out of time and can’t afford to hold back the Regions that can play.” An IHSA board decision from October would rule that students playing sports displaced from their traditional season can participate in school and non-school athletic teams simultaneously. In that decision, this would affect those playing football, boys soccer, and girls volleyball. The Board would further affirm that decision in Wednesday’s meeting with additional sports moving out of their traditional seasons. However, they would rule that participants in boys and girls basketball will need to cease non-school team participating within seven days of their first high school game.
Update regarding contact daysAll out-of-season sports can conduct contact days through June 4. These days have limitations to three days a week per sport. Additionally, there will be a maximum of six hours of contact time each week without interscholastic competition. [videopress iLa6A92F] This story was previously published in the February 3, 2021 print editions of the Free Press-Progress and Pana News-Palladium. It was also published in the Golden Prairie News, Blue Mound Leader, and Ramsey News-Journal.
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Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.