McHenry County coaches, athletes react to IHSA announcement

Prairie Ridge football coach Chris Schremp kept hitting the refresh button on Twitter like everybody else, waiting for Wednesday's IHSA's announcement on the fate of fall sports.

The final – and long awaited – decision?

High school sports are back for some, while others will have to wait.

The IHSA announced Wednesday that football, girls volleyball and boys soccer will be moved from the fall to spring season, and golf, girls tennis, cross country and girls swimming will still compete in the fall.

For Schremp, Wednesday's announcement was a positive outcome.

Prairie Ridge's coach since 2002 said he was surprised that teams were already allowed to hold camps, albeit with no contact. Starting football in the fall may have put the season in jeopardy of finishing if it started and then had to stop.

In a press conference with media members, IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said that the earliest football games could take place would be March 5 – likely meaning a maximum of nine games, including the postseason.

"I was worried if they did start it at this point, the same scenario would have happened with what happened in the spring," said Schremp, whose Wolves placed runner-up in Class 6A last year. "We get ramped up, start going, things look good and we get the second wave and everything gets canceled.

"I’m actually happy it turned out this way."

Dundee-Crown football coach Mike Steinhaus said he wasn't expecting to play football in the fall.

"I was kind of expecting what we got,” Steinhaus said. “You have to look at it realistically. I’ve been paying attention to the cases. We all knew they were going up and a decision would be made to keep the kids safe.

"I’m just excited for the opportunity to play. I’m sure a lot of coaches will say the same thing.”

High school sports in the state have been for the most part nonexistent since the IHSA canceled its winter sports state series, including the boys basketball state tournament, because of COVID-19 on March 12.

The day before, Hampshire's boys basketball team celebrated an upset victory over top-seeded Boylan in the Class 3A Wauconda Sectional semifinals, the last competition for any team locally.

The spring season was wiped away completely.

Hours before the IHSA's announcement, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker released restrictions for youth and adult sports, including school-based sports governed by the IHSA. That set the stage for the IHSA's plan, which came out about an hour later than anticipated.

Johnsburg's Kate Linkletter was one of many waiting by her phone for the decision. After missing her junior year of softball in the spring, she was worried about that happening again in the fall for her last year of volleyball.

"I'm just grateful that they didn’t cancel any of the fall sports like they did last (spring) with softball," said Linkletter, who practiced with her Skyhawks teammates at Johnsburg's volleyball camp in the morning after returning home from her final travel softball tournament in Oklahoma.

"That was tough."

Although volleyball and softball will not overlap (volleyball is scheduled to start Feb. 15 and end May 1 and softball is scheduled to start May 3 and end June 26, according to the altered sports schedule from the IHSA), Linkletter still could have a tough decision to make.

Does she continue to play both sports, or choose one and not the other? Linkletter also plays travel softball which could easily create a conflict for players with the IHSA's altered schedule.

Volleyball may run into the same problem, with the travel season running into the high school season. Linkletter also mentioned the shortened high school softball season being a possible deterrent.

Currently, the IHSA guidelines would permit only two softball games a week, or three if one is a doubleheader.

"I don't know," Linkletter said about choosing between high school and travel. "I think I would choose to play travel softball."

Prairie Ridge boys and girls soccer coach Mark Lewis agreed with the IHSA's decision to move boys soccer to spring. Not having a girls soccer season last spring was one of the most difficult moments for him as a coach.

"It was heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking," Lewis said. "Not just PR, but every senior that plays soccer, it was very sad. The good news, hopefully is that the boys at least have a chance to play their senior year, which would be fantastic."

Tennis, golf, cross country and swimming, all classified as "lower" risk for contact by the state, will continue in the fall from Aug. 10 to Oct. 24 but they must stay in groups of 50 or less, where groups are spaced at least 30 feet apart, and competitions should stay within a conference or a region of the Restore Illinois plan.

Jacobs boys and girls tennis coach Jon Betts was prepared for the worst Wednesday.

"Going into today, I was still holding out hope for salvaging something, though I resigned myself to accept it would likely be a blanket cancellation of at least the fall," Betts said in a text message. "Frankly, I'm thrilled that we have an opportunity for our students to compete. Tennis is a game of adaptability, flexibility and problem solving. We'll certainly have plenty of opportunity to develop all three this year."

Woodstock North volleyball coach Eric Schulze, who also owns VC United travel volleyball out of Loves Park, said it was the responsible move to shift volleyball to spring, but many questions are still left unanswered.

"I don’t know that we got today a clear understanding of what the season is going to look like," Schulze said. "It is an incredibly complicated thing to figure out, when to schedule and who to schedule. It's going to put a lot of people in difficult spot."

Schulze found Pritzker's new restrictions a bit odd.

Following the state's Phase 4 guidelines, Schulze said that practices at VC United have been running smoothly.

"We've been operating in Phase 4 quite successfully, keeping things safe," Schulze said. "We went six weeks, three days a week of practice, 150 to 160 kids a day and didn’t have a single (COVID-19) case."

Jacobs girls swimming coach Emily Peterson is not sure how swimming will look in the fall, but she's excited to be back in the pool. State restrictions for swimming include single lanes usage and no relays.

"I'm definitely relieved about the announcement about girls swimming and happy we will have some type of season, regardless of how that may look," Peterson said in a text message. "My hope is we are able to run a smooth regular season ... safely and putting our student athletes' health first."

Marengo athletic director and boys basketball coach Nate Wright is happiest for the athletes.

"As long as we’re giving them that opportunity to play and not cancelling, that is a step above where we’ve been," Wright said. "If I get any time on the court with the guys, that’s awesome."

Maybe the biggest victory from Wednesday's announcement, Wright said, was the IHSA and state acting in concert.

"Everyone seems to be on the same page with how they’re governing the activity of sports," Wright said. "We're where we need to be and where we should have been in May, finally in August."