COVID concerns sideline high school sports

By Rex Robinson | 7/24/2020, 6 a.m.
High school sports are being put on the back burner as concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic continue and cases of ...
It might be some time before high school basketball in Joliet and the surrounding suburbs will be back in full swing as the Coronavirus threat continues to linger.

High school sports are being put on the back burner as concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic continue and cases of the virus in Illinois once again start to surge.

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced on July 14 that it will defer to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and the Governor’s Office on all of its Return To Play Guidelines moving forward.

“There is an unprecedented level of planning for this school year due to COVID-19, and we have come to understand that there needs to be a greater consistency between the guidelines for returning to learn and returning to interscholastic athletics,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “

“Some of the recommendations by the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) and directives from IDPH have come into direct conflict with each other, especially as it relates to the use of masks by student-athletes. As a result, we feel it is important to let IDPH and ISBE provide a consistent direction for our membership moving forward. We will wait on direction from these organizations for further guidance on Return to Play plans for the 2020-21 school year."

The IDPH reported 166,925 statewide Coronavirus cases an increase of 1,624 from Wednesday to Thursday and a day earlier the number of reported cases in the state rose by 2,553. Reported deaths from the virus statewide increased by 20 to 7,367, IDPH officials said. More than 2.38 million people had been tested for the virus, according to the IDPH..

The IHSA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee had previously developed its own Return To Play Guidelines, which were then collaboratively amended, and then approved, by IDPH. The Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines were then amended at IDPH’s request to include a greater emphasis on masks, and also eliminated scrimmages in sports that require physical contact. IHSA teams can currently conduct limited summer contact workouts within the Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines as directed by IDPH and ISBE. Final approval on the revised Phase 4 Return To Play Guidelines from IDPH are forthcoming.

“We still believe there is a path to conducting high school athletics in the fall, like the majority of states surrounding Illinois plan to do,” Anderson said. “To make that happen, it’s important that we allow IDPH, ISBE and the Governor’s Office to take the lead on ensuring the safest and most consistent protocols.”

College play also is being impacted by COVID. In accordance with the National Junior College Athletic Association's (NJCAA) action plan for the 2020-21 academic year, the Joliet Junior College men's and women's cross country teams will compete this fall, with practice scheduled to begin Aug. 1.

However, competition for fall contact sports has been postponed until early 2021. The college's women's volleyball season will begin in January, and the men's and women's soccer teams will play in the spring.

"This was a very tough decision for the NJCAA and for us here at JJC, but it is the right decision," said Director of Athletics Gregg Braun. "The health and safety of our student-athletes is always our number one priority, and by moving all of our fall contact sports to the spring semester, we hope they will have the opportunity to play a full season and compete for a national championship."