With mitigation changes, here's what's next for high school sports
With Monday's changes to Illinois' COVID tier mitigations, high school gymnastics, swimming, badminton, bowling, cheerleading and dance have been cleared to begin competitions across the suburbs.
Region 8 (Kane and DuPage counties), Region 9 (McHenry and Lake counties) and Region 10 (suburban Cook County) are now all in Tier 2.
The department of public health also revised its sports guidelines Monday, allowing Tier 2 counties to move into level 3 for sports, meaning intra-conference or intra-EMS-region or intra-league play/meets can be held, as well as state or league-championship games/meets are now allowed.
While some questions remain, following IDPH guidance, the Illinois High School Association board of directors decided the following on Tuesday. IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in an emailed statement:
"Anticipating that low- and medium-risk sports would likely be able to return to action at some point in January or February, we have leaned on the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to help us determine the appropriate amount of acclimatization time for these sports. Our board approved a plan today for winter sports via an email vote."
That vote established seven practice days after the first practice for competition in all winter sports.
Basketball remains a high-risk sport. Schools in Tier 2 regions can have no contact practices and trainings only, while schools in Tier 1 can have intra-team scrimmages but no competition against other schools.
Patience still needed
St. Charles North boys swimming coach Rob Rooney, whose team won the 2019-20 state championship, says patience is still needed.
"I'm being very patient so we have correct parameters on what we can do," Rooney said. "Some of my peers are trying to get back at it today. Some are starting tomorrow. I'm going to be patient and hold off until Saturday until we touch the water. Looking forward to coaching again. I'm eagerly looking forward to the day this is all over and I can coach the way I want to again.
"I don't want to start speculating on how long the season can be, will be, because it's not in my power. That's another reason I'm trying to be very patient and then I'll plan accordingly."
Rooney also said he's concerned more about the future than the present.
"I'm at the point where I'm really concerned about preserving traditions and expectations that are important for the future," he said. "I think a lot of coaches are thinking short term and not long term. This is going to have a long-term effect on sports if people aren't protecting the past to promote the future. We have a lot of work to do very cautiously to rebuild sports.
"Our seniors right now are worried about the things they have missed. Our seniors in the sport of swimming have had a chance to be part of the culture for three years. I have to look at my freshmen and sophomores and invest a lot of time where they are at because they are the future. They haven't seen the things the juniors and seniors have."
Excited to get going
For Carmel senior gymnast Lyndsey Basara, the present is what's important, although she isn't discounting the future.
Last year Basara helped Carmel finish second in state as a team. At state, she tied for first on the vault and placed second on the beam and fourth on the floor.
"Obviously, I feel like my whole high school career led me to my senior year," she said. "I was really excited after last season to get going (in preparation for senior year), but then COVID hit. It was devastating, but we've stayed hopeful and now I'm excited again to get going and lead my team as captain. It's going to be different, but maybe different can be good, you never know.
"We have been working hard and I'm excited to show that. I want to finish my senior year as strong as possible. I'm just grateful we are a low-risk sport. I feel horrible for the sports that aren't in that category and are still waiting. I'm grateful we're getting this opportunity. We had such a great season last year and I'm hoping we can carry that energy into this season. I think the energy is there after all this time, and I'm going to try to bring it every day. We have five freshmen and I want to show them what high school gymnastics is all about. I want them to experience it."
And, some clarifications
Tuesday's IHSA statement also went on to clarify some points.
•Phase 4: Some regions have moved from Tier 1 to Phase 4. At this time, we are considering them one in the same. IDPH currently has no Phase 4 guidance posted and we believe that previous Phase 4 guidance we have from IDPH has likely expired. We will follow-up as soon as we know more.
•Fall, spring and summer sports: Please keep in mind that fall, spring, and summer sports can begin IHSA contact days beginning on January 25. Their allowable actions are also addressed in the chart on the IHSA COVID-19 page.
•Season start date (for determining end of nonschool team participation): In normal circumstances, a student-athlete would need to terminate contact with a nonschool/travel team within seven days of their first high school practice. Given that the entire state is not yet afforded the same opportunities, any low- or medium-risk winter sports that are starting practice will not yet count toward the time when they must cease participation with non-schools teams. We will announce a universal start that will align with the seven-day window for travel sports following the next board meeting.
•Weight room: Schools in Phase 4, Tier 1, and Tier 2 can conduct weight training with masks and social distancing. Schools in Tier 3 would remain limited to one-on-one training with a coach and student-athlete.
•Gathering limitations: There are some contradicting numbers from IDPH about gathering limitations for sports and weight-training ranging from 10 to 25 to 50 people. We've been told IDPH will update information for us (Wednesday) on this subject.
The IHSA board will meet again on January 27. It is the expectation that meeting will end with a more formalized schedule for the remainder of the year.
John Lemon and Patricia Babcock McGraw contributed to this story.