Return of sports also comes with challenges
The high school sports community woke up Thursday to another new world.
That world changed March 13, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the state boys basketball tournament and, eventually, all high school sports.
It changed again last fall when some sports were held, but in a way as never before with athletes wearing masks, spectators being prohibited or limited, and no state tournaments.
Then it changed this winter when Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the state department of public health put all sports on pause.
On Wednesday, yet another change came when the Illinois High School Association, following direction and guidance from the department of public health, announced all sports could resume.
Wow, we said. Cool, we said.
Then we started diving into how all this is going to work while we're still dealing with the pandemic.
I started thinking about all the obstacles and challenges that would have to be dealt with in order to play sports safely.
I happened on this quote from Ray A. Davis, a little-known author from Kansas, who once said: "A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it."
So let's throw out the word obstacle and focus on some of the challenges. To do that, I had a conversation Thursday with Naperville North athletic director Bob Quinn on several subjects.
• Overlapping of seasons. This is not a new issue, although it may take on more meaning between now and the end of June as 20-plus sports are being crammed into a short window, which means the greatest challenge will be for kids who play more than one sport to make tough choices. For example, the basketball season is to run through March 13 but football practice begins March 3. Even though those dates are different from years past, the challenge really isn't. Every year, kids are going directly from football to basketball. The situation this year will have many more overlaps of 2-4 weeks for some sports.
"We have overlap every year. This year we'll have more than ever," Quinn said. "We all know as coaches and athletic directors that we want multisport athletes. We're going to have to share some kids and we can do that. We have to make sure we're creating a safe environment and we have to make good, helpful decisions."
• Scheduling. ADs are scrambling to schedule events around available facilities and following guidelines concerning where each sport lies in terms of Tier 1 mitigations until we get to Phase 4. Quinn, as most ADs, is happy to have this challenge.
"All we've had since March 13 is uncertainty," Quinn said. "The IHSA has provided us a complete schedule and guidelines. We're moving in a positive direction and that gives kids hope."
One scheduling issue all schools will face is having more than one event in the same gym on the same night.
"The logistics of getting that done is something we all have to work on," Quinn said. "While a sophomore game is going on, the varsity teams might have to wait in a classroom, then when the sophomore game is over we'll do some cleaning. It will add some time."
• Spectators. While public health guidelines allow for 50 spectators at events in Phase 4, Quinn isn't so sure that's a good idea.
"I struggle with allowing spectators indoors," he said. "Outdoor is a different animal but my goal is to create a situation where if we start playing basketball we finish that process. I understand parents want to watch their kids play and I want that. However, if we're going to achieve our goal this year, the best way to maximize that is to limit our community and keep our community as small as possible. We, like many schools, have the ability now to livestream games."
As Quinn says, we all need to stay vigilant as we approach the return of sports.
"The pandemic is not gone," Quinn reminded us. "If we stop following the rules we'll be in Tier 3 (or Tier 2) again, sitting in our basements on our computer screens."
And no one wants that.