Will they play?

IHSA return to play guidelines pave way for some contests

Weekly Post Staff Writer

High school sports teams can officially practice in Illinois once again. Even so, the larger question remains: will prep athletes be able to compete this fall when, and if, school resumes? The answer appears to be that some, but very possibly not all, sports will have some sort of season if Covid-19 case numbers do not require Illinois to move back from Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.

A step toward allowing competition came last week when the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) approved “Return to Play” guidelines created by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA). Those guidelines allow for practices, which are already underway for many fall sports. Coaches are limited to 20 contact days between June 30 and Aug. 9.

The IHSA’s Phase 4 Return to Play Guidelines also allow for 50 players or game personnel on a field at one time and 20 percent capacity for fans.

“So games could be played under it,” said Matt Troha, an IHSA assistant executive director. “Football becomes more tricky, but we hope to be able to bring forth sport-by-sport recommendations to IDPH that could expand on those limitations for football games.” Prospects for competitive events in golf, volleyball and cross county look more promising than does the likelihood of a football season.

Troha said the difficulty with football is twofold: the numbers involved and the sport’s contact-oriented nature.

“Whether it be cancelled or moved to another point or time, all those options would be on the table,” Troha said, noting ther IHSA has not ruled out football season. He said IHSA members were surveyed in May about possibly moving football to the spring. “They were pretty unanimous that they did not want to see full-scale season changes,” Troha said. “But at the same time, they were of the opinion they would like to try to see every sport played, if possible. If you want both of those things, something has to give.”

This spring, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson initially said he did not want some sports played while others were cancelled. Troha said that view has changed. “If we can get some kids back, it makes sense to do that and not make everybody suffer,” Troha said. With that in mind, the IHSA is preparing guidelines for each sport. Troha said those plans could be out in the next few weeks, noting, “a lot depends on IDPH and [the Illinois State Board of Education].”

Of sports involving area high schoolers, golf looks least impacted by Covid-19 restrictions, though large tournaments might change. “Obviously, if we have a state tournament, we may have to change things up in terms of the number of people involved,” said Troha, noting the same could be true for regional and sectional rounds.

In cross country, he said teams might need to hold smaller meets instead of the large events that typically dominate the season. Still to be worked out is how to handle postseason events, when runner numbers well in excess of 50 are the norm.

And while volleyball crowds will be limited, the smaller numbers of the teams and participants involved make those contests easier to manage. Large tournament settings, though, might be harder to pull off.

“Those are the things we are working on guidelines for,” Troha said. “There’s just so much uncertainty. “We’re just going to keep preparing accordingly in hopes we have a season.”