Athletes in multiple IESA sports will not contest their 2020 fall seasons, with organization officials announcing Friday that boys' and girls' golf, baseball, softball and boys' and girls' cross-country will not occur as scheduled.
A post on the IESA website details these changes to the state's 2020-21 junior high athletic calendar, made in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"The decisions made by the IESA Board of Directors were by far the most difficult decisions I have ever witnessed the Board make in my tenure with the IESA," IESA executive director Steve Endsley said in a statement separate from the website post. "With there being so many unknowns regarding the re-opening of schools, the safety of the very students who participate in jr. high and middle school activities was at the very center of the discussion."
The announcement comes on the same day IHSA officials are slated to be involved in a virtual roundtable with members of the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education, intended to give the IHSA direction on conducting its own 2020 fall sports. An IHSA Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for Wednesday as well.
The IESA Board of Directors, meanwhile, conducted a special meeting Thursday "to discuss fall sports and whether those activities could be held in accordance with the current limitations placed on schools and activities by the Illinois Department of Public Health," according to the statement on the IESA website.
"After much discussion, the Board unanimously approved to cancel the regular season and IESA state series in the sports of boys and girls golf, boys baseball, girls softball, and boys and girls cross-country for the 2020-21 school year," the statement reads. "There are no plans to try and re-schedule the activities or conduct them later in the school year in part due to if and when high schools in Illinois play their contests."
Not all of the IESA's fall sports are off the table, however. A vote on the upcoming girls' basketball season was delayed, and the IESA board is meeting again in late August to make a decision on that sport's future. No reason is provided within the statement for that choice. The scheduled first day of IESA girls' basketball practice is Aug. 31.
"We know that there will be many people within the school system who will applaud this decision and there will be many who will be strongly opposed," the IESA statement reads. "At the forefront of the Board decision is that the activities must be conducted within the current limitations that have been placed on the schools by the IDPH."
The statement highlights the mandates of no physical contact among athletes and maintaining 6 feet of social distancing as especially difficult to work around, with IESA officials saying in the statement that those rules make "the administration and conduct of games and contests very difficult and in some cases impossible."
"Our sincere hope is that there are changes to the limitations placed on schools," Endsley said in his statement, "which will allow the remainder of the activities in the upcoming school year to be held as scheduled."
The IESA statement also highlights that even though travel sports are contesting events across and outside the state, those teams are not required to adhere to the same standards as IESA athletic programs.
"The difference is that schools will be held to the IDPH mandate and the youth summer contests are not," the statement reads. "It would make little sense for the IESA to move forward with these activities that would require schools to be in direct conflict with mandates by state agencies that have regulatory control over the schools."
The IESA's statement concludes by addressing frustration that is likely to be voiced by some associated with IESA sports.
"This decision is not the end of the world," the statement reads. "At the end of the day, we work with junior high and middle school students. They are not professional athletes; they are not college athletes; they are not even high school athletes. They will not be missing out on any college scholarships. These are mainly 12-14 year old kids who will have many more opportunities to participate.
"The IESA Board of Directors made a difficult decision, but in the end they simply felt that there are too many unknowns to proceed safely at this level of play."