By Anthony Jones
Since the Illinois High School Association’s cross country ended on October 31, there have been zero competitions in the Illinois high school sports world. In that nearly 12 week gap, the IHSA and Illinois Department of Public Health have made several changes to the complicated regulations and schedule of the youth sports world in Illinois.
The most recent news however is that three of Illinois’s COVID regions will be able to begin their winter seasons for “low risk” sports such as badminton, boys swimming and diving, cheerleading, dance, boys and girls bowling, and girls gymnastics. One of those regions will also be allowed to begin intrasquad scrimmages for boys and girls basketball. These changes came as the state moved those regions down into Tier 1 and Tier 2 mitigations. Tier 2 allows for the “low risk” sports, while Tier 1 allows for intrasquad basketball scrimmages.
Madison County resides in COVID Region 3, which was not among the three regions that recently had mitigations relaxed enough to begin winter sports. Region 3 is trending in a positive direction however and is near the requirements needed to move to Tier 2.
The IHSA’s original schedule for winter sports that was released over the summer included a November 16 start time as well as a February 13 end date. But due to the entire state being moved to a mitigation level where sports would be unable to play shortly before those seasons were to begin, they were not able to begin. On January 27, the IHSA plans to meet to discuss the schedule for winter sports, which will likely produce a more solid outlook for their seasons.
Originally deemed a “medium risk” sport by the IDPH, but changed to a “high risk” sport just before their season was to begin in November, basketball has been the most fluid sport this year. When the designation of the sport changed from medium to high, the state’s mitigations stated that no competitions could be held other than practices. But the IHSA voted to allow basketball to continue with their season as planned, marking the only occasion they went against the IDPH’s guidelines. Some schools across the state decided to stay with the IDPH’s recommendations of not playing, while others planned to play as the IHSA allowed.
Ultimately, the entire state was pushed back in terms of their COVID tier, which meant that no sports would be able to start. However, the IHSA’s decision to play basketball prior to that change also included important guidelines that will affect the sport if the season is allowed to begin. These included requiring players to wear masks while playing, as well as instituting more frequent breaks in action to offset some downsides of playing in masks.
The quickly approaching spring season will be facing many of the same issues as winter sports. Between the possibility of being pushed back to allow winter sports to have a season and several “medium” and “high” risk sports, it is likely they will not be able to play as planned.
As a “high” risk sport, football looks to be the most challenging spring sport for the February 15 start date. If the IHSA stays with IDPH guidelines, no COVID Regions in the state would be able to play currently. Boys soccer and girls volleyball, “medium” risk sports set for the spring, would also be unable to be played in most of the state.
One sport that would normally be in the conversation of winter sports is wrestling. The IHSA scheduled it for the winter over the summer, but many in the wrestling world lobbied for it to be moved to the summer to increase the chances the “high risk” sport is allowed to be held. That movement was successful, and certainly looks to be wise seeing how the winter season has played out.
The IHSA also has a summer season planned for the first time this year, as was necessary to move many of their sports around. It is set to include baseball, softball, track and field, girls soccer, and boys tennis. With the lone exception of girls soccer, all of these sports are deemed “low risk” by the IDPH. Girls soccer is listed as a “medium risk” sport.
The coming weeks will be important for all of the sports to be played this season. For them to happen statewide, many COVID regions will need to advance to lower Tiers of mitigation. The IHSA’s upcoming meeting on January 27 for winter sports scheduling may change the start and end dates for spring and summer sports as well. Also, whether the IHSA makes any more deviations from IDPH guidelines will also be pivotal in how they will make decisions for their coming seasons.