Ahead of the IHSA's anticipated announcement around 2 p.m. Wednesday about the fate of the upcoming high school fall sports season, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said early Wednesday afternoon in a press conference that high school sports, youth sports and adult recreation sports in Illinois are restricted amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
He mentioned these restrictions, which go into effect Aug. 15, do not include professional or college sports in the state. Beyond IHSA activities, they do include "travel clubs, private leagues and clubs, recreational leagues and centers, and park district sports programs," according to a document on Illinois' Coronavirus Response website.
"This virus remains dangerous to kids and parents and grandparents and teachers and coaches," Pritzker said. "Right now, this is the best thing we can do for the health and safety of our families. Based on their inherent risk level, there are certain sports whose seasons can move forward with more limited restrictions."
Pritzker cited three tiers of risk — lower, medium and higher — in discussing sports, and various athletic ventures are listed within these tiers.
From an IHSA standpoint, sports like baseball, cross-country, softball, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field fall into the "lower" category; basketball, 7-on-7 football, soccer and volleyball are among those in the "medium" category; and football comes in among sports at the "higher" category.
Included with these risk tiers in Pritzker's guidance are "Type of Play Levels," which are four levels of action permitted as "dictated by current public health conditions," according to the document.
- Level 1: No-contact practices and trainings only
- Level 2: Intra-team scrimmages allowed, with parental consent for minors; no competitive play
- Level 3: Intra-conference or intra-EMS-region or intra-league play/meets only; state- or league-championship games/meets allowed for low-risk sports only
- Level 4: Tournaments, out-of-conference/league play, multi-team meets, out-of-state play allowed; championship games allowed
EMS regions are the 11 sectors the Illinois Department of Public Health uses for its "Restore Illinois" plan boundaries.
According to the document, lower-risk sports currently can be held at Levels 1, 2 and 3. Medium-risk sports are able to occur at Levels 1 and 2, while higher-risk sports only can happen at Level 1 right now.
That means athletes in a typical IHSA fall sport like golf, cross-country or tennis currently could compete in intra-conference, intra-EMS or intra-league action, while athletes in a sport like football only can be involved in non-contact practices and training sessions.
"Extracurricular activities and sports are an important part to a well-rounded education," state superintendent of education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala said in a press release from Pritzker's office. "This guidance is not meant to be a one-size-fits all approach and takes into account the inherent risk of each individual sport and current public health conditions."
"The IHSA is meeting now to determine how fall sports should move forward as safe as possible," Pritzker said during his press conference. "I commend the IHSA and the IESA before them to take their difficult steps. Of course, if sports were the only risk during this pandemic, we’d have solved this problem a long time ago. Let’s take this opportunity to remind everyone we are far from out of the woods."
Following Pritzker's press conference, Tuscola football coach Andy Romine took to Twitter to express frustration with Pritzker mentioning Romine's program by name.
Pritzker began his press conference by saying that "among incidents that lead to higher rates of community spread, the outbreaks tied to youth sports are particularly troubling." He then began listing examples to feed into that statement, including Tuscola football announcing Sunday its summer activities were ending prematurely.
Romine told The News-Gazette on Monday this was done because contact tracing was required among members of his program after "two people ... tested positive" for COVID-19 at a business in which some of his athletes also work. Romine said Monday and reiterated in his tweets Wednesday that none of his players have tested positive.
"Shame on you @JBPritzker," Romine tweeted through the Tuscola football account. "You used our football program as an example in your press conference to justify cancelling/postponing high school athletics. ... We have followed the guidelines laid out. We have worn masks, social distanced, cleaned equipment, moved equipment to be more safe and efficient.
"We HAVE NOT HAD ONE kid in our program test positive. But you know who we are, and so do others. So, you exploit our program on your daily briefing to justify your decision. It's sickening and shameful. I will defend our program and how we have done things during this pandemic to anyone, anytime. Do not make our program part of your agenda. We do not deserve to be there.
"Our kids do not deserve that stigma. Nor does our town. Nor our school. That comment was irresponsible, disgusting, and lacked great integrity. We speak constantly about integrity to our kids. You simply showed none and it's appalling."