IHSA going with modified sports schedule based on state guidance

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Guidance for the future of high school and youth sports came Wednesday from Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois High School Association as state officials try to navigate through this continued COVID-19 landscape.

Following these guidelines, the IHSA announced a modified sports schedule for the 2020-21 school year that moves some sports to different seasons than they’ve typically been played. Some junior high sports will also take place this fall.

Pritzker said this state guidance applies to school-based sports, travel clubs, private leagues and clubs, recreational leagues and centers, and park district sports programs – not college sports or professional leagues – and was developed by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Illinois State Board of Education following consultation with the IHSA and Illinois Elementary School Association. Complete guidelines are available online by clicking here.

The state’s guidelines categorize sports into three risk levels (lower, medium or higher) based on amount of contact between athletes and their proximity during play. The guidelines listed Wednesday have sports such as football, wrestling and competitive cheerleading and dance in the high risk category. Basketball, soccer and volleyball are sports listed as medium risk. Baseball and softball are listed as low risk, provided the players are six feet apart in dugouts or in bleachers behind the dugout. Otherwise, both of those sports are medium risk.

Other low-risk sports, according to the state, are tennis, golf, track, cross country and bowling.

“Some sports carry an inherently higher risk of exposure because of direct contact, like football and wrestling, while others have a lower risk, like golf and bowling,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “As we learn to coexist with COVID-19, we must be smart and measured in how we go about it.”

Four levels of play are allowed based on current public health conditions:

Level 1: only no-contact practices and training are allowed.

Level 2: intra-team scrimmages are allowed with parental consent for minors, but there can be no competitive play.

Level 3: intra-conference, intra-region or intra-league play is allowed and there may be state or league championship games allowed for low-risk sports only.

Level 4: tournaments, out-of-conference/league play and out-of-state play are allowed. Championship games would also be allowed.

The guidelines take effect Aug. 15. Based on current conditions in Illinois, lower risk sports can be played at levels 1, 2 and 3, Pritzker said. Medium risk sports can be played at levels 1 and 2, and higher risk sports can be played at level 1.

“I know our hearts break when we hear the word ‘restrictions,’ especially when it comes to our children’s love for their sports. Whether this year is their first time on the court or it’s their senior season – this isn’t the news anyone wants to hear,” Pritzker said. “But with rising rates of spread of the virus, with rising positivity rates throughout Illinois and the United States, this is a situation where the toughest choice is also the safest one.”

Pritzker added that sports organizations should make temperature checks available and participants and coaches should monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and should not participate if they are experiencing illness. Sports organizers or coaches also must maintain attendance logs of participants for contact tracing purposes. 

Athletic equipment such as bats and hockey sticks should be cleaned between each use. Other equipment, including personal gear such as hockey, football, lacrosse, or other sports using helmets, pads, or gloves, should only be used by one person and not shared.

Illinois first issued guidelines for youth and recreational sports in late May, when every region in the state advanced to Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan. The latest guidelines make adjustments to temporarily halt competitive play for most higher to medium-risk sports pending further health progress, as well as to provide additional clarity on capacity limits and high school sports.

IHSA Board of Directors meet

The IHSA Board of Directors met for a special meeting on Wednesday, where they approved plans for the 2020-21 school year. This plan has been sent to the IDPH for final approval.

“This plan, like nearly every aspect of our current lives, remains fluid,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “Changes may come, and if they do, we will be agile while putting safety and students first. It was important that we provide a framework today for our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and officials to begin preparing for the 2020-21 school year.”

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the IHSA creating truncated fall, winter, spring and summer seasons. As a result, several team sports will shift to new seasons – including football, boys soccer and girls volleyball moving from fall to spring.

IHSA boys and girls golf, girls tennis, cross country and girls swimming/diving will remain as fall sports and can start Aug. 10. Fall sports (Aug. 10 to Oct. 17) will begin with competition limited to conference opponents and other schools in the same general geographical area.

The winter season (Nov. 16 to Feb. 13) will feature such sports as boys and girls basketball, wrestling, boys swimming/diving, cheer and dance, and boys and girls bowling.

The spring season (Feb. 15 to May 1) will feature such sports as football, boys soccer and volleyball. All were previously played in the fall.

The summer season (May 3 to June 26) will feature such previous spring sports as baseball, softball, track, girls soccer and boys tennis.

The IHSA board also extended current Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines, which will allow sports slated to be played in the winter, spring and summer seasons to allow an additional 20 days of contact for schools between Sept. 7 and Oct. 31 following IDPH Phase 4 guidelines.

This board also verified that IHSA bylaws do not prevent schools who are conducting remote learning from participating in IHSA sports and activities. Participation will remain a local school and district decision regardless of the learning plan a high school is utilizing.

The Southern Illinois Junior High School Athletic Association Board of Control met Thursday morning and determined to move forward with baseball, softball and girls and boys cross country this fall. The SJHSAA is one of two governing bodies of junior high sports in the state of Illinois and features member schools south of I-70.

The other junior high sports governing body is the IESA, which represents central Illinois and the Chicago area.

During their meeting on July 31, the IESA board reversed an earlier decision to cancel the fall sports season after reading guidance released from the governor.

Softball, baseball and cross country teams may begin practices on Aug. 3 and they may conduct their first game or contest on Aug. 15.

Sports risk levels according to state guidelines issued Wednesday in Illinois.
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