The COVID-19 pandemic world has already disrupted high school sports like nothing else in history.

That disruption could continue longer than any of us expected back in mid-March when the cancellation of high school sports events began.

Gov. J.B Pritzker rolled out a five-phase plan Tuesday to reopen Illinois.

If you look closely at the plan, it becomes painfully obvious that high school sports' return to the normalcy we've come to embrace could be a long way off -- and especially in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

And that's a thought causing Illinois High School Association executive director Craig Anderson some sleepless nights.

"We'll see how the phases play out as we make our way into summer," Anderson said in a candid interview with The Daily Herald Wednesday.

"If we can stay on a schedule that gets us into Phase 3 in June and then Phase 4 sometime later into summer, it makes me feel better about getting sports started in early August."

That's the best-case scenario I discussed with the IHSA's top man.

Anderson said we could be in for the long haul before we see a return of high school sports in any form, and if that happens in the fall it would likely, initially, be without fans.

While Phase 4 -- we are in Phase 2 until at least May 29 -- allows for schools to reopen with guidance from the Department of Public Health, gatherings of more than 50 people are not allowed until Phase 5.

"I'm a little cautious about when we get into fall if we'll be able to have practices, and about bringing spectators into stadiums or not," said Anderson, who agreed the state would need to reach Phase 5 before spectators would be allowed to attend events.

"Phase 4 has us bringing schools back into session and having practices and the hopes of competition, but I don't think we'd have the ability to have spectators until we reach Phase 5."

The stark reality is we could be months from reaching Phase 5, and Anderson said another reality is schools might need to be back to in-session learning before sports could return in any form.

"The toughest part of this," Anderson said, "is we generally have some sports back before school begins. So we have to have the projection of having kids back in school before we can have any thought of having practices begin."

Anderson addressed the possibility of some noncontact sports that are easier to conduct with health guidelines in place, such as golf and tennis, being allowed to begin ahead of football and soccer.

"In the spring I said a number of times we had to be all or none but as we look at coming back I've changed my opinion about that," he said. "Much like the (reopening of Illinois) idea is related to regions, I think phasing in different sports providing for different amounts of contact is something we definitely have to consider.

"My eyes are wide open and I'm getting a variety of feedback as to some significant changes. I think anything is going to be discussed and considered as we move into revitalization. We have to consider a number of factors as we look to the upcoming school year, and to hold up some sports that could get started would be doing our schools and students a disservice."

Holding up some regions of the state that could open before others is also part of Anderson's thought process.

"That's one that our board will ultimately decide on," he said. "Ordinarily our rules are applicable statewide and no matter what it would create some controversy either way. I think the possibility does exist where we could see some areas open with some activity while others are restricted. It won't be my decision, it'll be the board's decision, and that will be a challenging one."

Another possibility Anderson didn't discount is flipping fall sports into the spring season and playing spring sports this fall, a proposal that's gaining momentum in Ohio.

"I think we're willing to look at any possibilities that would not be missing out on another school year of sports," Anderson said. "But flip-flopping or having modified season limitations and the scheduling-related issues would get very complicated. Right now at least, as a staff and potentially with our board, we'll continue to have discussions that are outside the box."

Also outside the box is the thought of no high school sports in 2020-2021. Anderson admitted it's something he's definitely thought about, and more than once.

"Potentially, it's a really scary idea and the thought of the financial circumstances for the association and our membership, but it's definitely something that has come to my mind," he said. "If we evolve into the phases and we see spikes and go backward the potential definitely exists to think -- and it's very uncomfortable for me to say -- that we could go a full school year without sports.

"It's almost alarming but at this point in time we don't really know what the future looks like."

And that's about the only thing any of us know for sure right now.

jradtke@dailyherald.com