Photo Courtesy of IHSA
IHSA Athletics are no longer in limbo and student-athletes’ fears that they would lose their season are put to rest.
The Illinois High School Association met on January 27 to plan the next steps forward for Illinois High School Athletics. After weeks of being on pause, this meeting reinstated the remaining sports and gave a more detailed schedule for the rest of the year.
Prior to the meeting, Andrew Lambert, athletic director, was hopeful for a resumption of the seasons and believed that this meeting would provide a better picture of what the rest of the year would look like.
“Even though the mitigations are lifting, that doesn’t mean that COVID is going away and that we need to be relaxed on how we operate. I fear that there will be outbreaks that will still occur, and that will put some restrictions in place for certain programs or an overall athletic department program,” Lambert said. “My hope is that we’ll be able to get every sport back in action at some point.”
As of early January, Illinois was one of the last states to release an update or schedules for the resumption of winter sports, according to the News Herald. This lack of an indicator led to much confusion within the state about whether or not sports would even resume, Justin Kutsor, senior basketball player, said.
“I was initially very unsure we would get [a season] and at one point, was under the impression that the season was canceled for sure,” Kutsor said. “The worst part has been the uncertainty of it all.”
Rallies have been held throughout the state within the past few months calling for IHSA and the Illinois Department of Public Health to provide any information about when and if sports were going to continue, according to ABC News. We now know that sports will resume immediately with new dates, but many were extremely concerned and worried that athletes’ seasons would not resume.
“You have got to put trust and faith into the leadership of each state and that they’re going to make a decision based on what’s best for their citizens, so I think the experts at the state level that have been working with the governor and so forth felt that the mitigations they were putting in place were the best decision for our state given our circumstances,” Lambert said.
Due to the limited time left in the school year, IHSA will attempt to run two seasons’ worth of sports in one season. In order to accomplish this, many sports will have shorter-than-normal seasons. Some sports will overlap briefly, causing athletes to choose between their sports, and some sports will not have State Championship tournaments. This limited time-frame frustrates athletes, Kutsor said.
“The most frustrating thing is that it ends up causing overlap or a shorter season because now all of the seasons are squeezed into a small section of the year rather than scheduling some lower-risk sports for earlier,” Kutsor said.
However, athletes will at least get a season, and for spring sports, the athletes will avoid having two entire seasons canceled after last spring. A big priority for why there was such a strong push for the resumption of athletics is the significant concern of student-athlete mental health without sports, Lambert said.
“I have met with our head coaches on an ongoing basis about staying in contact with our student-athletes, even though we know many of our student-athletes are Zoom fatigued. The last thing they want to do is to sit on another Zoom for an hour in the evening or a couple of times a week, but certainly, it is at the forefront of our thinking. As soon as we found out we could return, we’ve been trying to open everything up, so that we can get all of our student-athletes back,” Lambert said. “My fear is that there are a number of kids who are struggling with some mental health issues and they may just opt not to do anything. They may step away from their sport or not participate in a club or an activity just because their state of mind is not in a good place. One of the conversations that I’m having is how do we recapture those kids to bring them back in and really reconnect with them and try to get them to a good place.”
Lambert hopes that the resumption of practices and competition will help combat this issue. However, Lambert also emphasizes that even though restrictions are being lifted, COVID-19 is still prevalent and should be taken seriously.
“Regardless of whether we’re in phase three, tier two, or phase four, we still need to follow the guidelines and mitigations that are in place, like avoiding large gatherings, and continuing to wear masks and socially distance,” Lambert said. “The last thing we want to do is create a situation where we can’t have a program participate because there are a number of athletes that may have come down with COVID. We want our athletes to participate, so we all have to do our part.”
With the resumption of seasons, there likely will be very few, or even no spectators at events to prevent large gatherings. However, most home athletic events will have the ability to be live-streamed for fans not able to attend events live, Lambert said. Upcoming sports seasons will not be the same, Kutsor said, but athletes are happy to at least be able to play.