The 2021 high school sports season remains in flux after the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced on Wednesday, Jan. 13, that they would not be setting the schedule for the rest of the year, but hoped to do so on Jan. 27.
“IHSA sports remain in a pause until the IDPH lets us know otherwise,” an email sent to member schools states. “We could see potential rollbacks by region on Friday, but a chance exists that the status of sports may not change even if rollbacks occur.”
The IHSA Board did approve the resumption of “contact days” in all IHSA sports not in season as soon as the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) allows. Contact days normally exist within the IHSA as informal voluntary offseason workouts.
““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 reviewed several options outlining a sports schedule framework for the remainder of the school year and directed IHSA staff to take feedback from the meeting and insight gained in the coming weeks to bring forward viable scheduling options for the board meeting on Jan. 27.
“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 (Jan. 15),” read a statement from the IHSA Board of Directors. “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.”
The statement also said that board realizes that if no sports have resumed by February, changes may need to be made and the likelihood of some sports having a true season may not be possible.
“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.”
Wednesday’s meeting comes a week after IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson, along with members of the IHSA and IESA staff, met virtually with Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Deputy Governor Jesse Ruiz and IDPH Chief of Staff Justin DeWitt on Jan. 6.
“We appreciate the dialogue with state leadership and believe it is crucial that it continue moving forward,” said Anderson. “We understand that the state faces shifting priorities as it continues to fight the pandemic, while also beginning the distribution of the vaccine. There was no expectation that a single meeting would resolve all our questions. However, we believe that collaboration with state officials is vital for the IHSA to be able to develop an informed plan for the 300,000-plus student-athletes and over 800 high schools that encompass the Association.”
The goal of the meeting, from the IHSA and IESA standpoint, was to gain some insight on when interscholastic sports might return and how the IDPH leadership assesses the risk level of the remaining sports.
“We believe that there is both data and science that validates the idea that we can safely conduct sports,” said Anderson. “We have seen it work in other states and believe it can in Illinois if we utilize the mitigations provided by IDPH and the IHSA Sports Medicine 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.”
All IHSA sports remain on hold for now, with low risk sports not able to begin until the state returns to Phase 4 in the mitigations.
“Our Board of Directors is going to have difficult decisions to make regarding the seasons for medium and high-risk sports very soon,” said Anderson. “With no specific IDPH timeline or statistical benchmarks established for the return of sports and the calendar shrinking, putting together a puzzle that allows for all sports to be played becomes increasingly improbable. We continue to urge all residents of our state to be diligent in their efforts to adhere to safety guidelines, as a lower positivity rate remains the key to athletics returning.”
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