TUSCOLA — Contact tracing. A phrase that, to many, didn’t carry any special weight before March of this year.
Now, it’s something directly associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A means of finding out which people and how many individuals came into contact with an infected person.
The phrase on Monday made its way to the lips of Tuscola football coach Andy Romine, part of the discussion about why his team prematurely ended its summer workouts.
“We’ve got a number of kids that work in a place, and there was, I believe, to my knowledge, two people who tested positive there,” Romine said, only adding that the business is in Tuscola.
Romine said the parent of one player reached out to Romine to inform him the player had been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
“I said, ‘Yeah, they can’t come (to workouts),’” Romine said. “And I started thinking, ‘Man, we have a number of kids who work there.’
“So that’s when I called our administration ... and it just kind of rolled from there.”
The Tuscola football Twitter account on Sunday published a tweet that read, “Tuscola football summer activities are postponed until further notice.” Similarly, the Tuscola volleyball Twitter account posted a tweet on Saturday that informed followers “there will be no practice on 7/28, 7/29 or 7/30” — this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Warriors athletic director Ryan Hornaday said in a tweet to The News-Gazette that “we’re just being cautious” and did not indicate if other teams’ summer workout schedules had been impacted.
The Tuscola School District Twitter account also published two tweets Sunday, those messages reporting two open gym sessions for both of the East Prairie Middle School basketball teams had been canceled.
Tuscola is far from the only Illinois school making scheduling adjustments because of the pandemic. The most well-publicized and extreme case was at Lake Zurich, where all school district sports camps were suspended earlier this month after 36 COVID-19 cases were discovered among attendees.
Beyond simply health-related concerns, Romine relayed disappointment that the Warriors were unable to complete their offseason slate as planned.
“We’ve had a great summer,” Romine said. “The kids are in great shape, and we’re not that far behind football-wise.”
Romine and the rest of his team still are preparing for an Aug. 10 start to the 2020 season, which is the first official day of practice. Whether or not that actually comes to pass should be decided this week.
The IHSA Board of Directors has a Wednesday meeting scheduled after last Friday’s gathering between officials of the IHSA, Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education to discuss the viability of high school fall sports occurring as anticipated. The IESA Board of Directors last Friday officially canceled most of that organization’s fall sports.
Romine said he’s trying to stay optimistic during the waiting game, but added that it’s not clear to him who will make this final call on IHSA fall athletics given officials at the ISBE — one organization to which the IHSA earlier this month deferred on all future “Return To Play” decisions — wrote in one of the group’s recent publications that it “does not have oversight over these associations or organized sports activities.”
“It’s just like, sheesh, who’s making the decisions here,” Romine said. “I don’t think anybody knows. Do it, don’t do it, let’s say we’re pushing it back to spring. But ... we’re two weeks away from this (season’s start date).”
Romine said he doesn’t harbor concern over “COVID derailing a season” or the chance that “we’re going to have enough kids who get it to where all the sudden we’ve got to forfeit a game.”
But he feels there is contradiction at play when it comes to some return-to-school plans and corresponding return-to-play actions.
“You’re going (to school) every other day, like in some of these districts, and then think you’re going to play football,” Romine said. “Like, ‘Hey, you can’t come to school all day, but at 3:30, athletes, you have to be at the school so that you can be in very close proximity without masks behind helmets.’
“I don’t know where the justification of it is, but I know kids want to play. We want to play. I don’t know what the fall looks like in Tuscola without football. I just don’t know. I’m not sure I want to find out.”