By Mark Jurgena
The long-awaited return to play decision for all Illinois high school athletics came down this Wednesday afternoon.
The IHSA announced they would have winter, spring, and summer seasons as previously planned but all have revised timetables.
Beginning immediately, schools that are in the appropriate tier can count practices retroactive to last week when the IDPH began reducing COVID-19 restrictions across the state. After seven practices they may begin competitions. Some sports that have begun that process include bowling, competitive cheer, and competitive dance.
“We basically have five weeks to bowl our season,” said Collinsville boys & girls bowling coach Sean Hay. “No IHSA state finals is disappointing. We have an experienced team that is ready for the challenges this year. We will do our best with the season as it is. The ultimate fact is that we are grateful to have the opportunity to compete this year on some level, unlike the spring sports of last year.”
While lower-risk sports begin locally, the high-risk sport of basketball can only practice, socially distanced. Since Metro East schools are in Tier 2, they will have to wait until Tier 1 status is achieved to begin counting their practice days.
“Finally some people in this state came to their senses,” said Collinsville boys basketball coach Darin Lee. “In my opinion, they did something that should’ve happened a while ago like the other states around us. Our region is still not getting a fair shake, that’s the way I feel.
“But once we get a position where we can play, we are ready to go. We will practice the way they have stated for people in Tier 2. But to really get anything accomplished we need the IDPH to get us to Tier 1, Phase 4, or make basketball a medium risk sport. One of those…quickly.”
Those winter seasons end on March 13th. They have no limit on games they can play but are expected to be “reasonable” with the number of games they schedule. Regardless, after so much time away from their teams, all coaches are happy to be starting again.
“I’m really excited not only for our program but all student-athletes in our area,” said Triad boys basketball coach Jeff Guidry. “It will be great to be back in the gym and together as a team. There’s still challenges ahead but I’m confident we will make the most of the situation and our time together.”
What happens if the Metro East is unable to reach Phase 4 and cannot participate in basketball with everyone else?
According to IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson, they would consider “reestablishing a season,” later in the spring just for that affected region. His comments were made during a Microsoft Teams call Wednesday.
Football, boys soccer, and volleyball will begin during the first week of March and continue through late April.
“We took a huge, huge, huge giant step today but with a little more effort it could’ve been almost perfect,” said Collinsville football coach Joe Bevis. He further advanced the notion that perhaps all sports could get quickly to competitions like those occurring in many surrounding states. In exchange, spectator limits would be even more strictly enforced.
These spring sports are the ones that were switched from the fall due to their contact risk factor. Because of time constraints, the IHSA will not conduct a state tournament in these sports.
“Glad that we get to play and the dates have been set,” said Triad boys soccer coach Jim Jackson. “(I’m a) little disappointed that there is not a state tournament.”
After the “spring” campaign, the new IHSA “summer” season will begin. That will mostly consist of the sports that were canceled during the spring of 2020 due to COVID-19. They are scheduled to compete from April 5 through June 19.
“It’s great to see that all sports will be able to be played this year!” said Collinsville softball coach Jess Schmittling. “While we await further answers, Kahok Softball is excited to utilize contact days prior to the new April 5th start date. The important thing is that kids have a chance to get back on the field and court and a season to look forward to! This has been a much-awaited announcement, and I cannot wait to see their smiling eyes when Kahok Softball gets to play their first game since 2019 this spring!”
While the idea of a state series for these sports is still up in the air, that was the farthest thing from the mind of Highland baseball coach Joel Hawkins.
“We’ve been walking around without the ability to make a calendar for a very long time,” he began. “The excitement of seeing the starting point and even the opportunity to get together with some of the kids in a practice format, in the terms it currently is… we’ll take it. It means there’s an opportunity to coach kids again. That’s something I desperately enjoy. The bottom line is it represents a little hope.”
Wrestling, normally a winter sport, will begin April 19 through June 12 but will have no state meet.
“It’s going to be a constant evolution,” said Bevis who doubles as Collinsville’s wrestling coach. “We’ll be just fine, the kids are going to show up and do the work and are going to be excited to hear that there’s an official start date for basketball, football, and wrestling.”
As for scheduling, Collinsville athletic director Clay Smith indicated the SWC schools will meet Thursday at Collinsville to hammer out schedules. Triad athletic director Kenny Deatherage indicated the MVC will meet for the same purpose at Triad. As a fellow MVC school, Highland will also be at Triad.
The IHSA Board of Directors also created a guideline mandating that high school athletes stop playing with teams outside their school within seven days from their first high school competition date.