Game on: High school sports to resume, including basketball soon and football in March
It's game on for high school sports, but in a way the state has never seen.
The Illinois High School Association on Wednesday released a calendar for the remainder of the 2021 portion of the school year. Most notably, basketball competition can begin for schools in regions that have reached Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan, after those schools have conducted seven days of practices. The final day of the season is March 13, with no state playoffs.
Regions 8, 9 and 10, which cover Kane, DuPage, Lake, McHenry and suburban Cook counties, are still in Tier 1 but are trending toward Phase 4 in the coming days.
Football practices can begin March 3 with a six-week season of games set to begin March 19 and no state playoffs.
All other winter sports -- girls gymnastics, boys and girls bowling, boys swimming, dance, cheerleading and badminton, which are all considered low-risk -- can begin competitions as soon as they have concluded seven practice dates. Some schools have scheduled competitions in those sports as early as this weekend.
"We understood the high level of anticipation surrounding today's announcement, along with the scrutiny that will accompany it," said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. "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.
"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."
In a late afternoon news conference, Anderson said COVID testing is encouraged but not required.
IHSA guidelines also require all student-athletes to participate in masks -- with the exception of swimming and diving, gymnasts on an apparatus and 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.
Following IDPH guidelines, spectators will be allowed, with a maximum of 50 at schools in Phase 4, or 25 at schools not in Phase 4. Anderson said spectator rules will be up to individual schools, as will protocols should positive COVID tests occur within a program.
All winter sports are scheduled to conclude by March 13, with the exception of badminton's end date on April 3.
This spring's sports, the ones traditionally played in the fall, have varied start dates from March 1 to 15, with end dates of April 17 to May 29.
Traditional spring sports will now be played from April 5 to June 19.
No state tournament series is scheduled in any sport. Anderson said the IHSA would like to hold a state series for the traditional spring sports, but he said that based on current health guidelines that won't be likely.
"The board wants to do everything in their power to prevent spring sports from going two consecutive years with no postseason IHSA play," Anderson said. "There are obviously no guarantees, as risk levels by sport and local region mitigation statuses will factor significantly. Postseason could mean being limited to a regional or sectional level of competition, but we have not ruled out the idea of playing a full state tournament in these traditional spring sports if possible. The overwhelming feedback we have heard from athletic directors and coaches was that returning to play in all sports should be the main goal."
Anderson also sent a word of caution concerning basketball.
"We still have regions of the state that need to make strides in order be able to play basketball this winter," he 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."