Shorter season, playing in June concern spring coaches
Like many spring coaches, St. Charles North's Todd Genke had mixed emotions last week when the Illinois High School Association unveiled its plan for the 2020-21 school year.
Having just lost their baseball season, Genke is glad there's a plan in place for the North Stars returning to the field next May.
The plan involves a shorter season, with just two or three games a week, and one that extends into June when there will be numerous conflicts.
"I don't want to sound negative because I can't imagine everything they had to do to make those decisions," Genke said. "You can poke holes in anything. But it's a little disheartening they did what they did.
"I respect they were trying to do it for the entire athletic world. But taking away 15 games and we might lose more with weather, it's kind of a slap in the face to the baseball world because we already lost a whole season and now they are limiting us."
Baseball, along with traditional spring sports softball, track and field, lacrosse, girls soccer, boys tennis and boys volleyball, are now summer sports with a season that starts May 3 and ends June 26.
Spring coaches immediately noticed the difference with the eight-week season that is three to five weeks shorter than the other seasons.
"That registered with me when you look at what we lost last year in the spring," Naperville North girls soccer coach Steve Goletz said. "For me anything is better than what we had. I'm not saying it's ideal and I see the disparity a little there but we at least we have something on paper right now that gives these kids a chance to compete. Seeing how it affected our spring athletes I wouldn't wish that on any athlete to have a season washed away."
Glenbrook South boys track and field coach Kurt Hasenstein, who also coaches cross country, said he wished the IHSA would take a week off his fall season and add it to the summer. Same with winter and spring.
Track and field is also losing its indoor season.
"There's a couple things that are concerning," Hasenstein said. "If everyone was as short-handed as us, I wouldn't feel as bad. But when you compare our weeks compared to the other seasons, we are getting about half our season, not even.
"The timing of it being so late, middle of May before you can have a competition? You are going to have kids who say I have my first competition May 17 and I graduate on May 26th? There's going to be kids who say heck with it, I'm not going to do it."
Glad to be back
Compared to the misery of last spring, Glenbrook South softball coach Dana Boehmer, an Elk Grove graduate, will take this new plan.
"I think the IHSA is giving every opportunity they possibly can to let students compete this year," Boehmer said. "Last year, having our entire softball season lost was devastating to all the athletes, coaches and especially the seniors. I feel very hopeful for our new summer season and we are just looking forward to getting back on the field."
Geneva girls soccer coach Megan Owens shares much of that sentiment.
"Spring coaches are thankful the IHSA was able to be flexible and allow everyone to play," Owens said. "We, better than anyone, understand the heartbreak of having a season canceled. There are no easy answers and it is impossible to please everyone. Spring coaches are a resilient bunch. We proved that last spring when we kept our athletes motivated and engaged despite not being able to meet in person."
Problems with June
In addition to the shorter season, another challenge posed by the new schedule will be playing in June.
Hasenstein worries some of his juniors might skip track because they will choose football camps instead. That's just one potential conflict. There's summer jobs, vacation and the long stretch from the end of the school year.
"For a senior it's six weeks past graduation and talking about the state track meet," Hasenstein said. "So many goofy things. I was a little shocked when I saw the dates and how late it went into summer. I hope there's some reconsideration with the start date at least."
June also is a big month for travel teams in baseball, softball and soccer.
"The girls soccer world is used to the club vs. high school debate," Goletz said. "I hope we can find a way to make it work. I understand the importance of kids playing club soccer and I understand the importance of high school soccer. Both avenues have a lot of benefit."
Genke and baseball coaches have dealt with missing players to travel baseball during past summer seasons.
But the overlap now with the high school season is going to be challenging.
"That is a potential major problem," Genke said. "It's going to put some kids in a box and make them have to choose."
Genke said he wished baseball could begin in mid-April even while realizing there would be conflicts with players finishing the football season. While some speculated about flipping baseball to a fall sport, he was glad they didn't for fear a spike in COVID cases could cause a second baseball season to be canceled.
Whatever disappointment he has and challenges he faces, Genke is trying to focus on the positive. Last spring he had 12 seniors he had to say goodbye to virtually.
"On one hand I'm happy we are going to have a season because going through what we did last spring was horrible," Genke said. "When I look that we are at least going to play, that's one positive. And we don't have to do tryouts and can get out on a field and practice and play in baseball weather. It's not perfect but it is a chance to play ... to get on the field with your kids, and that's what we are all looking for after going through what we've gone through."