While questions remain, IHSA's Anderson optimistic about return of high school sports

  • Will there be high school football in the fall? It's a question that looms now that it appears schools will reopen for in-session learning, but Illinois High School executive director Craig Anderson said Wednesday he's still cautious about the return of football, and all sports.

    Will there be high school football in the fall? It's a question that looms now that it appears schools will reopen for in-session learning, but Illinois High School executive director Craig Anderson said Wednesday he's still cautious about the return of football, and all sports. Daily Herald File photo

  • If high school football does return in the fall, will there be fans in the stands? IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said Wednesday he's still cautious about that and many other things related to the return of high school sports.

      If high school football does return in the fall, will there be fans in the stands? IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said Wednesday he's still cautious about that and many other things related to the return of high school sports. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/24/2020 5:01 PM

So many questions, yet so few answers.

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday schools could reopen for in-session learning this fall, it sparked an active conversation within the high school sports community about the return to playing games.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It would be wise for us not to get ahead of ourselves.

While it's easy to be overly optimistic about having high school sports return in August, there are no guarantees that's going to happen and, well, there are so many questions, yet so few answers.

There is reason for cautious optimism as our state has continued to trend in the right direction recently on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But let's deal with the present before we talk about the future.

The present is IHSA member schools are still operating in Stage 1 of the IHSA's Return to Play plan, which allows for conditioning only, and even though the state is poised to enter Phase 4 of Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan Friday, that doesn't mean automatic change for high school sports.

The IHSA has submitted an aggressive plan to the Illinois Department of Public Health for Stage 2 Return to Play, but that plan has yet to be approved, and there's no firm timeline as to when it will be.

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"We are continuing to wait for approval from IDPH as it relates to the guidelines we have," IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said Wednesday. "We have sent them to our membership so they can be prepared but there will likely be some modifications. We wanted to get out what, between our board, our staff, and the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, we believe we can do but we're not in a position to indicate this is a direction we can take until we get IDPH approval.

"The IDPH is responsible for many different things. We can only wait until they respond."

To add to the mix, the Illinois State Board of Education Tuesday released guidelines for students to return to school. Those guidelines are quite strict for physical education classes, pools, gyms and locker rooms but for extracurricular activities, the ISBE says schools must follow the IDPH requirements set forth for the school setting.

The IDPH has yet to issue those specific guidelines.

"We've maintained communication with the ISBE and they've been great supporters," Anderson said. "The ISBE's focus, in my opinion, has been the return to learning. The IDPH has their hands in both of our guidelines. Our focus is not just sports but all activities. ISBE has made a simple response and is working closely with IDPH on getting our guidelines approved."

Anderson acknowledged there is some very different wording to what the ISBE has put out as compared to the IDPH's Phase 4 youth sports guidelines, which were released Monday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"You can determine there's some contradictions," he said. "ISBE's guidelines look really limiting but the youth sports guidelines are much less limiting. While we could put ourselves in a different category than just youth sports -- we're education-based -- we are a cross between those two guidance documents.

"We'll know more when we get our response from the IDPH. We want to do things safely and we don't want to see spikes (in COVID cases). We want to continue to do things safely so when we get to fall we're able to provide more opportunities."

Ah, fall. So many questions, yet so few answers.

"My gut is telling me we will have some fall activities," Anderson said. "I don't know if we'll have all fall sports. There may be some modified seasons. I feel confident we'll have some fall sports."

Will football be included?

"Physical contact in football presents challenges," Anderson said. "If we can have some activities in July and early August and do so safely, it paves the way to have some expanded activities that today might not look possible.

"We continue to monitor from afar pro football and college football. If permissions are granted at those levels, it could allow for high school football. There's no guarantees but, being optimistic, if those levels are allowed to play there could be some opportunity for high school football, but my gut is still a little cautious about football in the fall."

What about fans attending games in the fall?

"That presents another dilemma but aside from that, we are seeing positive signs we may be able to have some sports in the fall," Anderson said.

"We collectively still have to be cautious and recommend safety to everyone and not throw caution to the wind because the alternative is not good."

jradtke@dailyherald.com

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