BLOOMINGTON — The waiting game for high school sports to resume in Illinois continues.
The Illinois High School Association announced Wednesday that sports remain on pause, but contact days can begin pending Illinois Department of Public Health approval. The IHSA Board of Directors held a virtual meeting Wednesday.
The IHSA said it hopes that low-risk sports, such as boys swimming and diving, can restart as early as Friday in certain parts of the state where Tier 3 Emergence Mitigations are removed. All sports were put on hold Nov. 17 to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases.
"The IHSA acknowledges the immense mental, emotional, and physical strain that a lack of contact with school programs is causing Illinois high school student-athletes,” said IHSA executive director Craig Anderson. “It is our intention that these contact days provide sport-specific training under the leadership of high school coaches. This is an effort to provide a viable sports option to high school athletes given the growing number of student-athletes opting for higher risk opportunities within the state and across state lines."
The board will meet again in a special meeting on Jan. 27 to review a schedule framework for the rest of the 2020-21 school year. Several options were reviewed at Wednesday's meeting. The board asked the IHSA staff to take feedback from Wednesday's meeting and have viable scheduling options ready.
The IHSA said once the IDPH gives a go ahead for low-risk winter sports — including boys swimming and diving along with girls bowling, cheerleading and dance — those teams can practice immediately and continue their season through the new sports calendar established by the board at the Jan. 27 meeting.
Bloomington High School athletic director Tony Bauman said he wasn't surprised about the lack of a definite date to resume sports being determined Wednesday.
"I understand the IHSA has their hands tied by what the IDPH and governor (J.B. Pritzker) does in regards to the current mitigations," said Bauman. "While I had today circled on my calendar, I'm really looking forward to Friday because that's when current mitigations are set to expire and I'm hoping we hear something from the governor that allows us to resume some winter sports and contact dates, at least."
Bauman said he "thought it was smart" not to reschedule any of the seasons just yet.
"They (the IHSA) have some ideas in mind, so it won't be starting at ground zero when they get that information from the governor's office," said Bauman.
The IHSA board of directors released the following statement:
“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. Per Governor Pritzker, we have hope that low-risk sports may be permitted in certain regions of the state as early as this Friday (January 15). 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.”
“We remain collaborative in our efforts with IDPH and the Governor’s office,” said Anderson. “We are trying to do our part to fight the pandemic, while simultaneously seeking safe participation opportunities for our student-athletes. We understand the real mental toll this pause in athletics is having on Illinois high school student-athletes. We believe that school-based athletic participation is better regulated, making it the safest participation option for our students, and more data continues to emerge supporting that stance. We will continue to share that information with state leadership in hopes that we can work together to provide participation opportunities for young people in our state.”
Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_benson