Athletes Return As IHSA Starts Phase Four

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After a re-acclimation period consisting of conditioning in small groups, the 2020 Hillsboro Hiltoppers finally got their hands on a football on Monday, July 6.

The two and a half hour practice late Monday came after the IHSA handed down the Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines Friday afternoon. 

The guidelines lay out what coaches in all sports can do for the 20 summer contact days, which were extended to run from July 5 to Aug. 9, if their school district is in Phase 4 (or better) of the state’s Restore Illinois plan.

“We will go Monday, Tuesday and Thursday this week and in two weeks there is a camp we’ll go to,” Coach Aaron Duff said of the Toppers’ plans. “We’ll go three more times the last week of July, but we’re keeping the original dead period. A lot of people schedule vacations for that time and I don’t want to screw that up.”

The guidelines have put the coaches at the forefront of keeping the young players safe as each school must maintain a daily record of which athletes are participating, when and symptoms they may present.

The guidelines say that athletes should be screened at the start of practice for temperature and COVID-19 symptoms, with any player showing symptoms or a fever of 100.4 or higher barred from practice.

“When we got here, I sat down at the table and temperature checked each one,” said Duff, who said none of the players showed an abnormal temperature on Monday. “I made them use hand sanitizer and we sat six feet apart for a meeting in the bleachers.”

The practices are limited to 50 individuals, indoors or outdoors, by the state’s regulations, and 30 feet of space must be maintained  between gatherings of 50 when outdoors. Indoor gatherings are limited to 50 people, regardless of spacing.

In addition to the use of hand sanitizer by athletes and coaches, the guidelines also say that students must be encouraged to shower and wash workout clothing immediately upon returning home.

Other safety measures include no shared water bottles or hydration stations, the sanitizing of shared equipment such as balls, blocking pads and sleds and the wearing of masks. Players aren’t required to wear masks during physical activity, but are encouraged to wear one when feasible. 

While it’s usually uncommon for spectators to be at summer contact days, if any contests are held, the number of spectators allowed is capped at 20 percent of seating capacity, with six feet of distance between families. Complete guidelines can be found at IHSA.org.

One of the odder scenes Monday was the breakdown after a drill for the Toppers. With no handshakes, high fives or fist bumps allowed, a socially distant group, “1-2-3 Toppers” was the only option.

Still, with all of the requirements, Duff and other coaches around the state are glad to get back to some sense of normalcy.

“When this first started, I was just hoping that we would have camp,” Duff said. “So we’ve actually been able to have more than I thought. “

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