By Mark Jurgena
For the Times-Tribune
Amid a sea of uncertainty and confusion related to the puzzling return to play process set forth by the IHSA, Roxana Athletic Director Mark Briggs decided to take matters into his own hands.
So he spent countless hours drafting logical return to play guidelines for both high school and Jr. High sports that would allow them to return to play this fall.
The proposals were sent to the IHSA and the IESA.
“I feel like I’ve got to be somewhat… to carry my weight… be creative in some ways. We can pull this off where we can limit indoor exposure. The thing that drove me the most is how can you do this and eliminate indoor activities in the fall and still pull it off,” Briggs said.
His idea is to gradually return to indoor sports in the winter and to save the most physical sports for the spring.
The high school plan calls for baseball, softball, boys tennis and all track & field to move to the fall. Traditional fall sports like boys golf and soccer along with girls tennis would stay the same. Girls swimming would be in the fall also. The state series would conclude by November 2, 2020.
The winter would see a return indoors for boys and girls basketball along with bowling and gymnastics for both genders along with competitive dance and cheerleading. Boys swimming would also be in the winter. Those state tourneys would be done March 6, 2021.
That would leave the most physical of sports for the spring months. Most notable among these is football. In this proposal wrestling would also go to the spring due to the physical nature of the sport. Volleyball would also move to the spring for girls. Boys volleyball is already a spring sport.
Boys and girls cross country, water polo and lacrosse would see spring openers along with girls soccer. Badminton would also show up next spring. The beginning of the revamped spring sport slate would begin practices on March 1, 2021 with a state series going no longer than June 11, 2021.
“When I looked at the way to pull this off it was finding ways to already take what’s going on and just transition into the fall,” explained Briggs. “If you’re really thinking about kids and safety, you’re going to find a way to make them safe to where the risk goes way down when you’re outside. The very difficult thing for me was the sports that traditionally are in certain parts of the year such as track going to the fall. That was a big struggle for me and I know there’s a lot of people that feel strongly about that. We share a lot of football and track athletes, everybody does, more than football and cross country athletes.
“(I was) finding a way to avoid as many conflicts as possible and not forget about elementary/Jr. High sports. The main focus for a lot of people right now, when you get online and read, is it’s all about high school. Other kids need opportunities also.”
His proposal for the Jr. High levels would be to move track & field to the fall and baseball/softball to the spring. This idea would free umpires to work high school in the fall and Jr. High in the spring.
Briggs emphasized his proposal is not an easy answer to this complex problem and that it has potential pitfalls. He expressed great concern over moving traditional high school spring sports baseball, softball and track & field to the fall months.
“It’s best to look at a model to try to avoid losing fall sports, which is shifting some things around,” Briggs said. “There’s no doubt about it though we’re going to get to a point where we know if we’re going to be able to pull this off or not. What’s the harm of everybody digging in deep and trying to pull this off to make it work. If it doesn’t, you just revert back to traditional spring sports. I make it sound easy, it’s not easy, there’s no doubt about it.
“Everybody right now in every profession is scrambling to try to do things to make them work and they’ve got to think outside the box more than ever before. There’s no reason why high school athletic directors, principals and superintendents can’t dig in and find a way to make it work. If you find out you’re going to lose fall sports, you revert back to your traditional model.”
Additional plans to mitigate the spread of the virus include ending universal summer contact days immediately to concentrate only on the “new” fall sports. He also has recommended reinstating the dead period in early August.
Another measure he was concerned about was the cold and flu season over the winter. He is proposing eliminating basketball games from December 18, 2020 until January 4, 2021 to mitigate the spread of the virus. That would mean no Holiday basketball tournaments this winter. To offset that, the basketball seasons would begin a week earlier.
This part of the proposal was difficult for Briggs. He has been the head boys basketball coach at Roxana for 19 seasons. Each year they are entered in the Pinckneyville Duster Thomas Hoops Classic over the winter break.
“The most difficult time of the year for everyone, no matter who you are as a winter coach, is flu season. When the flu season kicks in, regardless of the pandemic slowing down. It’s going to be hit and miss the whole winter. If you can minimize it and not really take too much from the game… I feel like the proposal is just brainstorming… I’d love to see somebody else piggy back on it. I feel like that’s one of the main parts of this thing, the guts is in the winter time trying to limit through that flu season. It essentially keeps people in pods, because when you’re with your team that you practice with everyday and not competing against other teams and bringing other people in your gym, that is going to mitigate any situation where you’re going to have a spike in cases,” said Briggs.
Before anyone can worry about the winter the fall must be addressed.
Briggs noted he received an email response Monday morning from IESA Executive Director Steve Endsley addressing some specifics of his proposal.
“They (the IESA) were told by ISBE, the big hang up right now is ISBE says that you cannot social distance in baseball, softball right now. They will not approve that. So that is where we’re at right now. We are struggling over social distancing between two sports that currently have no social distancing whatsoever going on anywhere in the state or in the country for baseball and softball. But the Illinois State Board of Education they have that hang up right now because of that language,” Briggs said.
Even with all the outside the box thinking, he indicated that the response so far has been “very positive,” although there has been some dispute over the flipping of track & field with cross country.
“I feel like people need to start asking questions about what’s going to happen because we’re going to run out of time. I feel like this is the week before playoffs. This is it right here. This is truly the week before playoffs start for AD’s. We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared,” he said.