Does spring sports season still have hope?

  • Schools are closed for the rest of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Is there any hope for a spring sports season?

    Schools are closed for the rest of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Is there any hope for a spring sports season? John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/18/2020 5:08 PM

It's June 1, and we've bent the curve like a pretzel.

School is out for the summer and numbers from the COVID-19 pandemic have improved to the point where Gov. J.B. Pritzker relaxes the stay-at-home order to allow activities beyond the essentials.

 

The IHSA, which all along maintained hope for extending the spring sports season, decides it's time to play -- albeit with restrictions. After a week of acclimatization and practice, truncated athletic schedules begin.

No spectators are allowed at any events and smaller rosters are formed with priority given to seniors. Masks are an obvious requirement for everyone, and other safety measures are enacted.

Following a week of conference play, a brief slate of IHSA state series competition salvages the spring season and paves the way for a new normal in the fall.

Is it possible?

In the wake of Pritzker's Friday announcement ending in-person classroom learning for the rest of the school year, does it make sense to hold out hope for some semblance of a spring sports season as a tribute to the senior student-athletes who deserve a last hurrah?

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It's been a thought on a lot of minds during the last two days.

"I wake up at two in the morning with my mind racing, just trying to figure out if there's anything we can do," said Wheaton North athletic director Matt Fisher. "If they tell us we can do it, we'll make it work. We'll do everything we can so we give these kids one last shot."

Um ... there's one more thing.

"I think it's definitely wishful thinking on our parts," he said.

Let's be clear. It's extremely unlikely even a shortened spring season will happen. That's the sad reality.

When Pritzker made his school closure announcement Friday, the IHSA followed with a statement that it's waiting until Tuesday's board of directors meeting to decide the fate of the spring season.

Regardless of any hope that might inspire, expect the IHSA on Tuesday to align with Pritzker and officially cancel the spring season. After all, it's pretty tough to hold a state series when schools aren't open.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The IHSA was being very hesitant to close down the possibility of coming back," said Barrington athletic director Mike Obsuszt. "They were open and willing to extend the season because who's to say this won't change in a month? But if I'm a betting man, I don't think you're going to see any spring sports."

Now let's be cynical. If you've been to a grocery story in the last month, it's tough to argue that's a safer environment than a high-school baseball game or tennis match in terms of social distancing.

One is obviously essential, and that's a critical distinction. But from a standpoint of safety, an argument's being made for the reopening of spring sports because of a belief it can be done with limited risk.

A Change.org petition circulating in an effort to extend the IHSA spring season into the summer boasts 32,000 signatures. Public pressure, though, won't impact the decision to reopen prep sports.

Fisher recalls an infection that went through Wheaton North's wrestling program several years ago. Competition shut down for a week but cases spiked when the athletes returned. After shutting down for three more weeks, the wrestlers were finally able to finish a shortened season.

That example pales in comparison to a pandemic but it serves as a lesson.

What if prep sports come back and one high-school athlete tests positive for COVID-19? Then we're back to square one with the possibility of even stricter guidelines on a potential return.

The reason Major League Baseball talks about coming back is because everyone involved would be living a quarantined existence in Arizona. That can't happen in a high-school community, which makes the timing for a return extra complicated.

The world we live in might look different in a month but that guarantees nothing. Safe doesn't translate to safe enough.

"If the stars align I guess it's possible we could come back," Obsuszt said. "I just don't know that it can happen."

Hope is fading fast for spring sports, even for those holding on to the glimmer.

Twitter: @kevin_schmit

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