The return of interscholastic sports in Illinois remains in limbo.
A week after meeting virtually with Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz and IDPH chief of staff Justin DeWitt, the IHSA announced no significant changes to the current stalemate on the resumption of high school sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
All sports remain on pause at this time.
The IHSA board of directors met Wednesday morning to continue its discussion of the resumption of sports for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, but a start date has yet to be announced. There was some speculation that the IHSA might announce a target start date or revised calendar, but that likely will not come until after the next board meeting, scheduled for Jan. 27, at the earliest.
The IHSA did approve the resumption of contact days for all sports, but only when it is allowed by the IDPH and local school guidance.
The IHSA said that it hopes low-risk winter sports (boys and girls bowling, cheerleading, dance, girls gymnastics and boys swimming) can be permitted in certain regions of the state starting Friday, but a more realistic timeline is February.
“We realize there is a desire for finality on a sports schedule for 2020-21; however, we did not believe it would be prudent to lock ourselves into a schedule at a time when IHSA schools are unable to conduct any sports,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in a statement.
“Per [Gov. JB Pritzker], we have hope that low-risk sports may be permitted in certain regions of the state as early as this Friday. With that in mind, February seems like a realistic timeline to have sports resume statewide. We expect that the events of the next two weeks will go a long way toward informing our opinion on which scheduling option we decide to proceed with. We recognize that if no sports have resumed by February, season lengths could be impacted in certain sports, and that we may need to take a longer look at the likelihood of true seasons being conducted in high-risk sports this year.
“Our overall goal remains unchanged, as we hope to conduct all IHSA sports during the remainder of the school year calendar. Please know that we see and read many of the comments and messages from student-athletes, coaches and parents and that we are doing everything we can to try and bring IHSA sports back within the current parameters we are working in.”
During last week’s meeting, the IHSA told state officials they believe that sports can be played in a manner that is safe to participants. Currently, low-risk sports may not begin until the state returns to Phase 4 in the All Sports Policy.
“We believe there is both data and science that validates the idea that we can safely conduct sports,” Anderson said. “We have seen it work in other states and believe it can in Illinois if we utilize mitigations provided by IDPH and the IHSA’s [Sports Advisory Committee]. Students are already leaving or participating out-of-state on weekends. We believe that competing for their high school remains the safest venue for participation.”
The IHSA adjusted its sports seasons from three to four last summer when the IDPH initially assigned risk levels to each sport: fall (Aug. 10 to Oct. 24), winter (Nov. 16 to Feb. 13), spring (Feb. 16 to May 1) and summer (May 3 to June 26).
The fall season had boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming, all listed as low risk. But spikes in COVID-19 numbers in November delayed the start of any winter sports, which still have not started.
Wrestling, a high-risk sport, already was moved from winter to the summer season. The low-risk winter sports – bowling, girls gymnastics, boys swimming, cheerleading and competitive dance – are waiting for their start. Girls badminton was moved from the spring to winter and also is waiting.
Boys and girls basketball, listed as a high-risk sport, are not allowed to compete yet under current IDPH guidelines.
Student athletes and coaches, among others, have gone to social media to express their opposition to the pause on sports and desire to return to the playing field, posting statements and short videos with the hashtags #LetUsPlay and #HearOurVoiceIllinois.
University of Illinois football coach Bret Bielema and men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood each posted tweets Tuesday encouraging the return of high school sports in a safe manner.
In response, @IHSA_IL wrote: “Thank you for the support #Illini!!! You’ve been leaders in showing how sports can be played safely at the collegiate level during the pandemic, and we know many other (Midwestern) states have and continue to do so at the high school level.”
All IHSA sports have been on pause since Nov. 20.