Releasing two sets of guidelines in the span of less than seven days, what form, if any, fall sports will take at Illinois high schools throughout the state is largely in the hands of the IHSA.
Less than a week after announcing its Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines, the IHSA sent revised guidelines to schools on Thursday, July 9, amid reports of athletes testing positive for COVID-19, including prohibiting contact drills and any physical contact among athletes. Additional changes include a requirement that all players and coaches must always wear masks. The IHSA clarified later Thursday that athletes are not required to wear masks outside if socially distanced.
The IHSA released a brief statement Thursday afternoon citing "an increase in positive cases of COVID-19 among high school teams around the state" as the reason for the revisions.
"Due to an increase in positive cases of COVID-19 among high school teams around the state, the Illinois High School Association and Illinois Department of Public Health are jointly collaborating to modify the IHSA’s Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines," according to the statement.
The IHSA also clarified that there must be a strict 50-person limit to any indoor activities.
The revisions will mean big changes for programs that had either already started or had scheduled summer camps in the coming weeks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a significant impact on fall sports programs for Illinois high schools, even before the two sets of guidelines were released.
“A normal summer would consist of weight room all summer, basketball activities in June, and football in July,” said Russ Gerlach, who has taken the helm of the Edwards County High School Lions Football program. “This year we didn't get into the weight room until June 26.
“We are trying to cram all we can into about four weeks.”
Also changing the summer schedule for the football program is the limitations on physical contact between student athletes. While workouts are still able to take place, other critical aspects of summer player development have been taken off the table completely.
“The new guidelines said we can't have scrimmages,” he said. “While we can still work on individual skills, missing out on experience from summer games will hurt kids who didn't play varsity last season.”
If those guidelines aren’t lifted or at least loosened by the time the regular season is set to begin, would-be spectators may have to go without Lion Football in 2020.
“If these rules are in place, we can't play,” Gerlach stated. “If we can't make contact with kids that live down the street, we can't play the games.”
For the rest of the story, check out this week's Navigator.