October 28, 2021

High school sports are back. Here’s everything you need to know, from start dates to health guidelines

Basketball and lower-risk winter sports to begin immediately

The IHSA on Jan. 27 released its full calendar for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, giving the go-ahead for boys and girls basketball and lower-risk winter sports to start immediately.

Boys and girls basketball, classified as a higher-risk sport, and lower-risk winter sports, including boys swimming, cheerleading, dance, boys and girls bowling and girls gymnastics, will run through March 13. Badminton, another lower-risk winter sport, can start immediately and will compete through April 3.

Wednesday’s announcement came less than a week after the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that regions that reach Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois health plan will be allowed to play contests, including higher-risk sports, such as basketball, football and wrestling.

In a news release, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said the IHSA achieved its goal of providing an opportunity for every student-athlete to compete safely this year while also maximizing opportunities for traditional spring sports that lost their entire season a year ago because of the pandemic.

“Our [board of directors] faced an impossible task with a litany of factors,” Anderson said in a statement. “They were conscientious in considering every possibility, and I believe their decisions today [Jan. 27] is a positive step for the mental, emotional and physical well-being of our students.

“We are excited to channel our energy into creating as many positive experiences for Illinois high school students as we can between now and the end of this extraordinary school year.”

So what are the schedules for the rest of the year?

Boys soccer: March 1 through April 17

Football: March 3 through April 24

Girls volleyball: March 8 through April 24

Boys gymnastics: March 15 through May 22

Boys and girls water polo: March 15 through May 29

Baseball, boys and girls lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, boys tennis, boys and girls track and field, and boys volleyball: April 5 through June 19

Wrestling: April 19 to June 12

How quickly can schools hold contests?

Teams in every sport, outside of football, can hold contests after seven practices. The first day that a football game can be held is March 19 – which is 16 days after the sport’s first official day of practice.

How many contests can be held in sports such as basketball and football?

In a news conference after the IHSA’s announcement, Anderson said there will be no limit to the number of games played, but schools “should be reasonable in scheduling so students have rest.”

Anderson estimated that five or six games likely is the most reasonable number to expect for football.

Where do the state’s 11 regions currently stand in the Restore Illinois plan?

All 11 regions have since moved out of Tier 3, which is subject to the state’s most restrictive measures. Among those measures is the halting of any athletic activities.

As of Jan. 27, Regions 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 have advanced to Phase 4; Regions 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 to Tier 1; and Region 4 to Tier 2.

Although higher-risk sports such as basketball, football and wrestling first must reach Phase 4 to play intraconference contests and contests within a region, lower-risk sports can play intraconference contests and contests within a region in Tier 2.

Moderate-risk sports such as volleyball must reach Tier 1 to play intraconference contests and contests within a region.

All practices and contests must be paused if a region slips to Tier 3.

Will there be a state series (i.e., regionals, sectionals, state tournament)?

Currently, the IHSA only is considering a state series for badminton, boys gymnastics, boys and girls water polo, baseball, boys and girls lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, boys tennis, boys and girls track and field and boys volleyball.

Dance and cheerleading will be allowed to have virtual sectional and state final meets. The state series for dance is scheduled Feb. 27 and March 6; cheerleading is scheduled March 6 and 12.

There is no state series planned for boys and girls basketball, boys swimming, boys and girls bowling, girls gymnastics, boys soccer, football, girls volleyball and wrestling. Even with a possibility of a state series in some sports, Anderson said determining a state champion is a “long shot.”

How many spectators are allowed?

The IDPH outlined guidelines for spectators Jan. 22, and those have not changed.

The number of spectators will vary by what phase or tier a contest is held in. For those within Phase 4, a maximum of 50 spectators is allowed. In Tier 1 regions, a maximum of 25 spectators is allowed. In Tier 2 regions, no spectators are allowed.

There is no difference in the number of spectators allowed regardless of whether the sport is indoors or outdoors, the IHSA said. The number of spectators is not affected by players, coaches and game day personnel.

What happens if a region slips in the state’s COVID-19 mitigation metrics and no longer meets the requirement to hold contests?

Although the IHSA board has agreed to consider different scenarios, Anderson confirmed that the IHSA will follow IDPH guidance as far as holding games within conferences and regions.

“We have said from Day 1 that if and when we were allowed to play again this year, the situation would be fluid,” Anderson said. “We don’t feel great about the notion of some schools falling behind based on their region’s status but also recognize that we are running out of time and can’t afford to hold back the regions that can play.”

What happens if a school or team reports a positive COVID-19 case?

Those decisions will continue to be made on the local level, Anderson said. There is no mandate from the IHSA regarding positive cases or testing protocols.

Can students play simultaneously on school and nonschool teams ?

In October, the IHSA board voted that students who play sports that were displaced from their traditional season (football, boys soccer, girls volleyball) could participate on high school and nonschool teams simultaneously.

The board reaffirmed that position Wednesday but also ruled that “girls and boys basketball players will need to cease nonschool team participation within seven days of their first high school game.”

Who is required to wear masks?

IHSA guidelines require all athletes to wear masks, except in the following situations: swimmers who are swimming and diving, gymnasts on an apparatus, and athletes in outdoor events where social distancing can occur.

All game personnel not participating also must wear masks and practice social distancing.

Alex Kantecki

Alex Kantecki

Alex is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald with a focus on preps. He has been with Shaw Media since 2014.