The clock is ticking on the 2020-21 high school athletics season, and more than 20 IHSA-sponsored sports have yet to take to the field — or the court, gym or pool.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to strict safety measures imposed at the state level, leaving the IHSA and local schools waiting since November for mitigation efforts to loosen before they can practice, let alone compete.
The IHSA Board of Directors announced after its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 13, a handful of decisions that all hinge on a change to state restrictions, which have prohibited indoor recreation since Nov. 20.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced this week, however, that a move to Tier 2 by Friday, Jan. 15, is in play for any of Illinois’ 11 regions that meet certain COVID-19 metrics.
It does appear, however, that Region 10, which covers all of suburban Cook County, is not among that group.
A region must post three consecutive three-day averages of 20% medical/surgical-bed availability to qualify for Tier 2. The past three days the region’s numbers in the category were: 19.9, 19.6 and 18.7 percent, according to state data.
In a statement Thursday, Jan. 14, Prizker spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh said, “the City of Chicago and Cook County do not meet the metrics to return to previous tiers.”
Region 10 has met the criteria in the remaining three categories: average positivity rate, hospitalizations and ICU-bed capacity. It has recorded 11 consecutive days over the threshold (20%) for average ICU-bed capacity, but has been below 20% in medical/surgical-bed availability since Jan. 4, the data shows.
Before that, the region posted three straight days (Jan. 2-4) of above 20% medical-bed availability.
Hospitalizations in the region have also decreased for 10 straight days (Jan. 4-13), falling from 1,040 to 947 patients in that time.
If Pritker holds to his word, Regions 1, 2, 4 and 5 — all rural areas — are eligible for lifted restrictions Friday, while Regions 8 , 9, 10 and 11 — all suburban areas plus Chicago — are not, each region falling short in medical/surgical-bed availability.
So what now?
Unless Pritzker and company move the criteria, indoor recreation will continue to be restricted in suburban Cook County until at the earliest Monday, Jan. 18.
The IHSA announced after its meeting low-risk winter sports — bowling, cheerleading, dance, girls gymnastics, and boys swimming and diving — can start their seasons as soon as Tier 3 mitigations are lifted.
When that occurs, contact days may also resume for all out-of-season sports, the IHSA said.
The IHSA is also hopeful it can release a general sports calendar by Jan. 27, setting a path for programs to build out regular-season schedules and practices.
“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,” IHSA’s Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement.
Local programs have done a lot of waiting and a lot of wishing, but they’ve also taken some action as well, from rallies to social media campaigns and more.
New Trier football coach Brian Doll has had plenty of conversations with parents, players and lawmakers on how to push for changes in current restrictions.
Just in the past week, local athletes have taken to social media to give testimonials about the importance of athletics, using the hashtag #HearOurVoiceIllinois, which was started by Maroa-Forsyth High School.
“It gives me a chance to work with my brothers, my teammates to get better every day and then to prove it under lights or on the court,” said Nevan Cremascoli, a New Trier junior football, basketball and volleyball player, in his video. “The successes and struggles in high school sports have taught me numerous life lessons that make me who I am today.
“All I ask is the IHSA and Gov. Pritzker come together and find a way to let us play.”
The IHSA still contends that all sports will play this school year. If that’s the case, Cremascoli is one of many student-athletes who are in for a busy spring as they try to pack multiple sports into an abbreviated season.
Doll knows managing multi-sport athletes and facilities is going to be a challenge. But he’s up for it.
“We’re all gonna have to really learn to work together,” he said of his fellow coaches. “ … (Athletic Director Augie Fontanetta) and Jim Burnside do a lot of our scheduling. And it’s very clear they are going to make a schedule that is fair and equitable to everybody.
“We need to take pride in that every student-athlete gets an opportunity to get out there. … We as coaches can’t argue about winning, losing or anything other than giving kids an opportunity to be a part of something.”