QUINCY -- Sports fans in Illinois finally received word on the fate of fall competition on Thursday, and there's still a sliver of light for contests.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced in his noon coronavirus press briefing limitations on youth and recreational sports, including those run by the Illinois Elementary School Association and the Illinois High School Association. The IHSA followed with a release of its plan for fall sports, a plan that involves moving football, volleyball and boys soccer to the spring and allowing other sports to continue with their planned seasons. Girls tennis, girls swimming, boys and girls cross country and boys and girls golf will continue with their fall seasons, though schedules have been adjusted.
"I applaud our Board of Directors for choosing a model that allows every student-athlete the opportunity for a modified season," IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. "Based on our recent conversations, it is our expectations that today's plan meets all of the (Illinois Department of Public Health's) safety guidelines and will be approved."
The IHSA also condensed each of the sports seasons. As of now, the fall season will run from Aug. 10 to Oct. 14; the winter season will run from Nov. 16 to February 13; the spring season from February 15 to May 1, and the summer from May 3 to June 26. Baseball, softball, track and field, boys tennis and girls soccer have all been moved to the new summer season, while football, boys soccer and volleyball will comprise the spring season.
Before the IHSA's announcement, rumors circulated about various paths fall sports could go down. Quincy Notre Dame athletic director Bill Connell chose the right one.
"My fear was that possibly everything would be across the board canceled until we got to January, so I am certainly very excited here for our school and all the schools across the state," Connell said. "They've given some teams an opportunity to compete, and then the teams that have been moved were moved in the best interest of young people and spectators and everybody across the board for their safety."
Unity athletic director Frank Cash was also pleasantly surprised by the decision.
"I felt like they could do something for golf and cross country and the other sports they did, but I wasn't overly confident that they would," Cash said. "I like the fact that all of the sports do get a season at some point."
While optimism about sports being allowed to compete is high, there are still plenty of factors to figure out.
"There is certainly some impact for all of our sports, at this point, that we don't know about," Quincy High School athletic director Scott Douglas said. "I think that's going to be dramatic, the changes with football and all of the sports that aren't going to be played this fall. It's good to know that there is a plan in place where everyone will be able to participate, but now comes the work of putting all of that in place."
The restrictions from Pritzker breaks sports down into three tiers: low, medium, and high risk. Sports considered low risk include golf, tennis, cross country, baseball and softball. Basketball, volleyball and soccer are among sports grouped in the medium risk tier, while football, wrestling and competitive cheerleading and dance are considered high risk.
The tiers are then broken down further into levels of play allowed. At Level 1, only non-contact practices and trainings may occur. In Level 2, teams are allowed to have intra-team scrimmages, with parental consent necessary for minors.
Level 3 allows teams to compete within their conferences or against other teams in their EMS region in the state, but no conference or state championships are allowed for anything other than sports considered low risk. Level 4 equates to full return to sports activities.
When the restrictions go into place on Aug. 15, all of the fall sports allowed by the IHSA will be in Level 3, but the restrictions on who and where they can play will be an issue for nearly every school in the area.
"That's going to require some further study and we will make some adjustments to our schedule in terms of how we go about it," Douglas said. "We will have to look at that a little more closely, but I think there's a level of excitement and enthusiasm that we will be able to play sports this fall."
Even for teams not the size of QHS, restrictions on opponents will cause scheduling problems.
"For tennis, we travel a long distance and play a lot of people," Connell said. "Some of those schools are in Missouri, and it appears those teams are out. We also play a good number of Missouri teams in girls golf, for example we play in the Kirksville Tournament.
"We are going to have to be open to some change, but that's the time that we're in."
The coronavirus pandemic has flipped the sports world on its head multiple times, with the latest schedule changes from the IHSA just another change added to the list. Some athletes now have the opportunity to salvage a season, but others still wait and hope for a chance to play.
"Everybody looks forward to the start of school because they know its Friday night lights time. Or they know its Monday and Thursday in the gym watching the volleyball team play," Cash said. "My thoughts are definitely with those athletes, coaches and families across the board. Not even just with our school, but across the area."