Youth sports in the state are being pared back because of COVID-19. Governor J.B. Pritzker and IHSA made announcements within a few hours of each other saying that young athlete’s health and safety are imperative prior to returning to full-contact seasons.
Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that he has made guidance for youth and adult recreational sports including but not limited to school-based sports, travel clubs, rec leagues, and park district sports programs. The new guidance places sports into 3 risk levels based on the amount of contact between participants and the proximity of athletes during play. It sets 4 levels of play ranging from no contact at all at level 1 to a return to full championship play in level 4. The guidance begins on August 15th.
Pritzker says that certain sports are allowed to return while others cannot due to contact and other health concerns. He says sports that allow for a certain distance between athletes during competition will be allowed to continue as long as health guidelines and extra precautions are followed. Pritzker says that professional sports are struggling to protect their own players: “Whether they’re new to the game, or have been training since they could walk, kids want to play sports. Parents want to cheer from the stands and watch the kids succeed and offer some occasionally unsolicited advice for the next game. Some young people are working toward a scholarship so that they can fund their college education. These are incredibly important moments in the lives of our children and our families and interrupting the season for our athletes and their fans is not a choice that anyone wants to make. But when the multi-million dollar, multi-billion dollar sports leagues with multi-million dollar athletes are struggling to protect their players, it’s obvious that there won’t be enough protection for kids on our school playing fields.”
Pritzker says that sports will be organized by risk level and the amount of competition will be allowed based upon the risk level that each present: “This is the best thing that we can do for the health and safety of our families. Under the current circumstances, based upon their inherent risk level and based upon minimal contact between athletes and their proximity during play. There are certain sports whose seasons can move forward with more limited restrictions. Tennis and baseball as examples simply don’t carry the higher risk inherent in contact sports like wrestling and football. That differentiation is reflected in these guidelines which categorize each sport into three overarching risk levels, lower, medium, and higher. Think of these guidelines like a grid. Three risk levels of sports and four tiers of levels of play, based on current public health conditions.”
The guidance document can be found here.
An hour later, IHSA announced that some sports will be changing seasons for scheduling purposes in hopes of possibly being able to play those seasons at a later time. Several sports will now be played in the spring instead of the fall. Football, girls volleyball, boys soccer will now be in the spring. Baseball, softball, girls soccer, as well as track and field have been moved to the summer. The IHSA also says that the seasons will be more condensed. IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a press release that the situation remains fluid but it is the IHSA’s hope to offer student-athletes the ability to still compete.
Boys and girls golf, girls tennis, cross country and girls swimming & diving will remain as fall sports, and can proceed to start on August 10 as scheduled. Fall sports will begin with competition limited to conference opponents and other schools in the same general geographical area. Schools will be provided more details in the coming week about the scheduling limits, and scheduling will continue to be assessed throughout each season. State Series tournament decisions will be made on a sport-by-sport basis as each season progresses with possible non-traditional means to conduct the events. Anderson also said that the Board also verified that IHSA by-laws 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.
No decisions were made about Bass Fishing, Chess, Debate, Drama & Group Interpretation, Individual Events, Journalism, Music & Scholastic Bowl. Anderson says IHSA is currently exploring possible virtual events for some of those offerings.
IHSA plans to provide more guidance within the next two weeks after schools return to session. The full IHSA announcement can be found here.
Hours after the announcement from Governor Pritzker and IHSA, Congressmen Darin LaHood, Rodney Davis and Springfield State Representative Tim Butler criticized the new restrictions in a joint statement. Davis says that a one-size fits all approach is a poor decision and called the governor’s determination of who can and cannot play an overreach of authority. LaHood echoed those concerns and says that by shutting down competition it endangers the mental and physical health of children and youth athletes. Butler asked Pritzker to produce the science behind his decisions and criticized the lack of input from state lawmakers in the General Assembly.