High school athletes should soon should learn the fate of their respective IHSA winter sports seasons for the 2020-21 school year, with the organization’s board of directors scheduling a meeting later this month that’s expected to include an announcement on the topic.
On Monday, the IHSA Board of Directors held a regularly-scheduled virtual meeting that included the decision to establish an Oct. 28 special meeting. By the time of that meeting next Wednesday, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a press release, “we expect to have a response from (the Illinois Department of Public Health) with final recommendations for winter sport plans, including any accommodations and postseason plans.”
The IHSA’s upcoming winter sports campaign, which includes boys’ and girls’ basketball, wrestling and boys’ swimming and diving, is set to begin Nov. 16 with practices and Nov. 30 with competitions. This altered timeline and the question of whether it will transpire were made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We understand that student-athletes, coaches, parents, officials and fans are anxious to learn more details about the plans for IHSA winter sports,” Anderson said in a statement. “We feel like we are making positive strides in our discussions with the Illinois Department of Public Health to be allowed to conduct IHSA winter sports as scheduled.
“We believe we have a plan to do so safely and want to provide IDPH with ample time to review the winter sports plans and supportive data we have provided them.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and IDPH director Dr. Ngozi O. Ezike —who both spoke Monday at a press conference in Murphysboro — expressed concern about a second COVID-19 wave that Illinois may presently be in the grips of. During past media events, Pritzker has been noncommittal when asked about the future of various prep sports amid the pandemic and didn’t offer up any details on Monday.
In July, the IHSA began deferring to Pritzker and the IDPH on decisions pertaining to the IHSA’s “Return To Play” plan.
The IHSA board on Monday also tabled a vote on moving this school year’s wrestling season from its typical winter season slot to a May start date. This concept was proposed in September by a small group of wrestling coaches and officials.
One concrete decision made at the board’s Monday meeting addressed potential conflicts between IHSA and club sports seasons.
An accommodation is being made this academic year for athletes in football, volleyball and boys’ soccer to simultaneously play for both high school and club teams.
IHSA programs in these sports are scheduled for a season that runs from Feb. 15 through May 1.
“The board determined it was prudent to make modifications to the independent team bylaw for the sports that were displaced from their traditional high school season,” Anderson said. “The board is hopeful that the high school teams will be given priority when conflicts occurs. We believe making a modification now will allow high school coaches and non-school team coaches to begin communication on how they can collaboratively resolve scheduling conflicts.”
Additionally, athletes in baseball, softball, girls’ soccer, track and field and boys’ tennis will have similar leeway beginning on June 4. IHSA programs in these sports are scheduled for a April 19-June 26 season.
No such accommodation is being made for winter sports athletes.
“It remains important for our board to be flexible and creative in seeking participation opportunities for students,” said Robert Nolting, the board’s vice president and principal at Andrew High School in Tinley Park. “I am less worried about teams competing for conference or postseason titles this year. The goal is to get kids back being active to benefit their mental and physical well being. ... This school year, we feel the right decision is to provide an accommodation that maximizes participation.”
Another note of interest from this Monday meeting was members the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association offering a presentation to the IHSA board.
According to the IHSA, the IHSFCA group displayed “a plan for the 2021 spring football season that would have the IHSA schedule regular-season games and then conduct a modified playoff system.” The board did not act upon this presentation but does plan to revisit it.
Anderson told member schools in July to expect a seven-game football regular season and up to two playoff games.