The IHSA Board of Directors met for a special board meeting Wednesday, during which it decided on an updated sports schedule and other guidance for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
The metro east is only at Tier 2 mitigations, however, which limits what sports can be played right now in the region. The metro east still needs to reach Tier 1 mitigations and then Phase 4 before all sports are allowed. Some regions of the state are already in Phase 4. To read more on the COVID mitigation levels in Illinois, click here.
In Tier 2, competition in low-risk sports such as bowling, cheerleading, baseball, softball, track and tennis is allowed. The medium-risk sports of soccer and volleyball are allowed to practice and have intrasquad games. The high-risk sports of basketball, football and wrestling can only have non-contact practices.
Per Wednesday’s announcement, boys and girls basketball, dance, cheerleading and bowling can begin practices immediately with a season that runs through March 13. The metro east currently cannot allow competition in basketball due to that sport being labeled as high risk.
“We still have regions of the state that need to make strides in order to be able to play basketball this winter,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “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. We can all do our part by wearing a mask and socially distancing.”
The IHSA agreed to consider other participation opportunities for a given sport, like basketball, if the sport is unable to be played in a specific region.
“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,” Anderson said.
Boys soccer, which is labeled as medium risk, can practice beginning March 1 with a season that runs through April 17 should it be allowed to play in the region.
Football, which is classified as high risk, can begin practices March 3, begin games March 19, and play through April 24.
Volleyball, which is listed as medium risk, can begin practices March 8 with a season that runs through April 24.
Baseball, softball, girls soccer, boys tennis and track are all slated to begin practices April 5 with a season that runs through June 19. These sports had their entire 2020 seasons canceled due to the pandemic.
Wrestling, which is classified as high risk, can begin practices April 19 with a season that runs through June 12.
“Ultimately, the board adhered to its stated goals throughout the pandemic: providing an opportunity for every IHSA student-athlete to compete safely this year and maximizing opportunities for traditional IHSA spring sports after they lost their entire season a year ago,” Anderson said. “I recognize that many schools and coaches could likely offer a tweak here or there that would have, in their opinion, made it ‘better’ for their school or sport. Our board faced an impossible task with a litany of factors. 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. 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.”
Waterloo School District Athletic Director Brian Unger expressed optimism with Wednesday’s news.
“We are very excited to have a schedule from the IHSA,” Unger said. “We understand that it might not be perfect, but it is a chance for our student-athletes to compete and we are thankful for all the hard work the IHSA has put in this year to make this happen. In order to compete, we still have to meet certain criteria from the state. This means that even if a season has started, if our region does not meet the criteria, we will not be able to compete. Our coaches have done a wonderful job navigating their teams through this unprecedented time and I can’t thank them enough for all their hard work. We will continue to keep everyone updated as we finalize plans and we thank everyone for their support of Bulldog athletics.”
IHSA guidelines require all student-athletes to participate in masks (with the exception of outdoor events where social distancing can occur) and for all game personnel not participating in the contest to also wear masks and adhere to social distancing.
In October, the IHSA ruled that students who play sports (football, boys soccer, girls volleyball) that were displaced from their traditional season could participate on both high school and non-school teams simultaneously. The board affirmed this position at Wednesday’s meeting with additional sports moving out of their traditional seasons and also ruled that girls and boys basketball players will need to cease non-school team participation within seven days of their first high school game.
“Each board member brought different concerns to the table that impacted their own school or region differently,” Anderson said. “There was never going to be a one size fits all solution to playing 25 sports seasons in a little over four months. What did occur was collaboration and camaraderie. Each board member may not have been able to have all of their specific concerns addressed, but we worked together to produce a schedule and plan that we believe will work for our student-athletes.”