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The first area high school fall sports event for the upcoming school year could happen as soon as next Thursday.

That was one of the highlights among the many specific directives issued by the IHSA on Friday to fall sports athletes, coaches and officials amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Golf is the first sport that can have actual competitions, with Thursday the first day, but cross-country, girls’ tennis and girls’ swimming and diving teams can begin practices on Monday. Under a strict set of guidelines.

One notable change across all of those sports is the one-week lengthening of the season. The last day on each sport’s calendar now is Oct. 24, instead of the Oct. 17 date given in an IHSA Board of Directors announcement on July 29.

IHSA guidelines for all fall sports indicate Oct. 24 should be left open by teams for a potential state tournament or state meet. Such an event presently isn’t guaranteed in any sport, though youth sports restrictions released last week by Gov. J.B. Pritzker include a line about state tournaments currently being permitted in low-risk sports such as golf and tennis.

The IHSA’s fall sports considerations include both sweeping advisement that pertains to all events, as well as sport-by-sport guidance and restrictions.

One difference between the sports is their competitive start dates. While golf could begin as early as next Thursday for both boys’ and girls’ teams, the first girls’ tennis match couldn’t take place until Aug. 20, with cross-country teams of both genders and girls’ swimming and diving teams not able to have their first meets until Aug. 24.

No week-by-week event restrictions are placed upon any fall sports, as is being done with the IESA’s junior high fall ventures.

IESA fall sports are limited to two contests per week, or up to three in baseball and softball if a doubleheader is involved. IHSA teams still have to abide by previously-established rules for how many competitions they can be involved in during any given season.

In the outdoor IHSA fall sports — golf, cross-country and girls’ tennis — 50-person limits must be placed upon a competition. Included in those 50 people are athletes, coaches and any sort of meet official or volunteer. Individuals, such as managers, videographers, media members and spectators, do not count toward that total.

However, in girls’ swim and dive, only 50 people across all of above parties can be present at one time within a natatorium — a building containing a swimming pool.

Spectators are allowed at all of these events, at a host school’s discretion, though they must abide by IHSA “Return To Play” Phase 4 guidelines. Included in those guidelines are a 20 percent facility capacity mandate and 6 feet of separation between spectators.

All types of meets and tournaments are allowed under IHSA considerations, though smaller events — involving two or three total teams — are recommended. Staggered groups of up to 50 are permitted in order to hold bigger events, though the groups cannot intersect or interact.

An athlete doesn’t have to wear a mask or face covering if they’re actively competing, warming up or cooling down for their respective sport. Otherwise, masks and face coverings are required for the athletes and all other individuals present at an event.

Below are some of the sports-specific requirements and suggestions provided in the IHSA’s latest guidelines:

Golf

  • There is a suggestion of digital scoring being kept, though traditional paper scorecards are allowed if bagged and given to athletes by a tournament manager/volunteer.
  • Anyone who isn’t an athlete, coach, athletic trainer or official must stay “remaining by the cart path” or “at least 15 yards from the players,” and no spectator carts are allowed.
  • Concession stands are allowed, but post-event awards ceremonies are not. This is the only sport in which such a ceremony is outright banned, though guidelines for other sports advise “using general PA announcements or an online platform for award recognitions.”
  • Flag sticks aren’t permitted to be touched or removed from holes.

Cross-country

  • A team’s meet entries are limited to eight individuals — seven athletes who would count towards their team scores plus one alternate athlete.
  • Runners must be at least 6 feet apart at the starting line; if that isn’t possible, a staggered or wave-based start is suggested.
  • No lineup of athletes at the finish line for placement and time purposes is allowed; FAT timing or a video system are suggested workarounds for this.
  • The narrowest point of a course can be no less than 6 feet wide.

Girls’ tennis

  • On the topic of the number of athletes allowed to compete for a team at one event: “Limit event entries to the maximum number of competitors to represent a team.” A typical girls’ tennis dual would include six singles matches and three doubles matches.
  • Gates should be roped off or left open, and alternating courts should be reserved for play if there is no barrier between two courts.
  • A group of tennis balls should be restricted to a single group of athletes or court, and a new can of balls is recommended for each match if possible. It’s recommended to disinfect balls after a match, and players are advised to use their racket or foot to move a ball they’re not handling.
  • Doubles matches are permitted, though partners are advised to coordinate in order to maintain social distancing.

Girls’ swimming and diving

  • No relays are allowed at this time, meaning swimmers are allowed to compete in up to four individual events per meet.
  • Only swimmers, divers, coaches, athletic trainers, lifeguards and meet officials are allowed on the pool deck during a meet, while team managers, videographers, media members, spectators and non-competing athletes must be outside the deck area.
  • In dual meets, teams must be kept on opposite sides of the pool. The home team is directed to use Lanes 1-3, and the visiting team is supposed to use Lanes 4-6.
  • Timers are allowed at the edge of the pool at the end of a race, though they must be masked, and only one lap counter is permitted per lane.

Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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