Nate Hoskins is in the midst of a routine that would have sounded utterly bizarre one year ago today.
But it’s now common during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Danville senior boys’ basketball player engages in e-learning, awaiting the return of a blended teaching format that includes some in-person instruction.
The 6-foot-3 guard, who holds offers from Division II programs Illinois-Springfield and Indianapolis, works out away from the Vikings’ gymnasium.
And Hoskins travels to Hammond, Ind., every Friday — for the last 1 1/2 months, anyway — to compete in an independent basketball league. He’s on a team called Money Squad with typical rivals like Centennial senior Khailieo Terry and Urbana senior Jermale Young.
So when Wednesday’s IHSA Board of Directors meeting resulted in high school sports remaining paused — as they have since mid-November — Hoskins wasn’t fazed.
“I’m kind of detached from it a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Hoskins said, “especially after November came and we started and stopped.”
Hoskins and other prep basketball players statewide were briefly able to train under IHSA regulations before Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health on Nov. 17 released new COVID-19 mitigations that halted a majority of IHSA ventures.
One-on-one exercises between winter sports coaches and athletes, along with outdoor workouts for any sport in groups of 10 or fewer, are presently the only school-associated workouts allowed under IDPH guidance.
That remains the case after Wednesday’s IHSA board meeting, though discussion of contact days, return to play for lower-risk winter sports and scheduling plans also permeated a subsequent press release from the IHSA.
“It actually doesn’t affect me how much it was at first, like the first time they kept kicking the can and rescheduling because it’s been happening for a while now,” Hoskins said. “I’m not going to say I got used to it, but it’s not nothing new.”
The IHSA board did announce a Jan. 27 special meeting in order “to review sports schedule framework,” according to the press release.
“We realize there is a desire for finality on a sports schedule for 2020-21,” the IHSA board wrote in a statement. “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.”
The board also is opening the door for contact days to begin “as soon as they are allowable per IDPH mitigations and local school guidance.”
“The IHSA acknowledges the immense mental, emotional and physical strain that a lack of contact with school programs is causing Illinois high school student-athletes,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “It is our intention that these contact days provide sport-specific training under the leadership of high school coaches. This is an effort to provide a viable sports option to high school athletes, given the growing number of student-athletes opting for higher-risk opportunities within the state and across state lines.”
Student-athletes like Hoskins, who are willing to drive several hours in a day just to receive a taste of athletic competition.
“It’s real crazy,” Hoskins said of high school basketball games taking place in the neighboring states of Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin. “This is like season time. You got a lot of time on your hands now.”
Perhaps athletes in bowling, competitive cheer and dance, girls’ gymnastics and boys’ swimming and diving soon will have a little less free time to worry about.
The board wrote Wednesday that the potential move of some Illinois regions from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in IDPH mitigations could open the door for return to play in those winter events. Pritzker earlier this month said regions that meet certain mitigation metrics can shirk Tier 3 restrictions as soon as Friday. If the mitigation metrics the state is using continue in a positive trend like they are now for Region 6 — which encompasses all schools within The News-Gazette’s coverage area — that would mean Region 6 could go into Tier 2 on Friday.
The IHSA said on Wednesday that when the state permits activity in the above sports, then “those teams will be allowed to begin practice immediately and then continue their season through the season calendar established by the board later this month.”
“Per Gov. Pritzker, we have hope that low-risk sports may be permitted in certain regions of the state as early as this Friday,” the board wrote. “With that in mind, February seems like a realistic timeline to have sports resume statewide.”
The board also indicated it has multiple plans in place for conducting athletics during the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, but didn’t offer any specific dates.
“We expect that the events of the next two weeks will go a long way toward informing our opinion on which scheduling option we decide to proceed with,” the board wrote. “We recognize that if no sports have resumed by February, season lengths could be impacted in certain sports, and that we may need to take a longer look at the likelihood of true seasons being conducted in high-risk sports (like football, basketball and wrestling) this year.”
When Hoskins was asked if, at this stage, he possesses any hope for a boys’ basketball season to tip off this school year, he responded “a little bit.”
“I honestly kind of lost a little hope, especially not hearing no news for some months,” he said. “I thought we just weren’t having one.”
Wednesday’s board announcement follows a meeting one week ago among representatives of the IHSA, IESA, governor’s office and IDPH.
“We remain collaborative in our efforts with IDPH and the governor’s office,” Anderson said. “We are trying to do our part to fight the pandemic, while simultaneously seeking safe participation opportunities for our student-athletes. ... We believe that school-based athletic participation is better regulated, making it the safest participation option for our students, and more data continues to emerge supporting that stance.”
Despite being kept waiting once more, Hoskins is grateful for those who are trying to establish some sort of athletic calendar for the remainder of his high school career. Even if it looks nothing like what he thought his senior season with the Vikings would look like.
“Knowing that people are still pushing for us to have a season — our head coaches and athletic director, they haven’t gave up on us,” Hoskins said. “That’s what’s really giving me hope.”