TOLONO — Unity football games, volleyball matches and boys’ soccer matches are not taking place this week.
Unit 7’s high school has adopted a temporary, but complete, athletic pause because of COVID-19. Rockets athletic director Scott Hamilton, who is in his 27th season as Unity’s football coach, said “we’re on line to resume (spring) competitions next week,” adding that he’s hopeful workouts for out-of-season sports also can resume next week.
Unity currently is on spring break, and Hamilton said he anticipates the Rockets will conduct in-person classes after that break despite this athletic pause.
“We just went ahead and paused all high school activities,” said Hamilton, who added that the decision was made in coordination with the Champaign County Public Health Department. “We felt it was in the best interest of our kids and our community ... to go this direction.”
Hamilton didn’t cite any specific COVID-19 cases or contact-tracing issues among the Rockets’ spring sports programs that led to this step. He did say that football activities were paused last Friday, followed by those of volleyball and boys’ soccer over the weekend.
“We felt like pausing everything gave us the best opportunity to keep everybody safe and kind of stop the spread,” Hamilton said, “and get everybody back as soon as we could — and, most importantly, try to keep people safe in our community.”
The shutdown led to the cancellation of Unity football’s Week 1 game against Olympia on Saturday afternoon, two volleyball matches and three boys’ soccer matches.
“We haven’t had to do this before,” said Hamilton, referencing the enforcement of a pandemic-era athletic pause that affects only Unity. “As an administration, not having answers for our kids is difficult. Not knowing what tomorrow’s going to bring or not having any idea of what tomorrow’s going to be like, you just don’t know. So it’s very difficult on all of us.”
The Rockets’ spring-sports athletes aren’t the only ones presently dealing with lost competitions during an IHSA season that lasts until April 17 for boys’ soccer and until April 24 for football and volleyball.
Urbana, Rantoul and Paxton-Buckley-Loda football are not playing their Week 1 games — against Centennial, Prairie Central and Seneca, respectively — because of COVID-19 issues for the Tigers, Eagles and Panthers.
Centennial instead is visiting Peoria Manual at 2 p.m. Saturday to open its season. Olympia, originally Unity’s Week 1 foe, will now visit Argenta-Oreana at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Bombers’ original opening opponent, Sangamon Valley, also is dealing with COVID-19 issues. Prairie Central still is seeking a Week 1 opponent.
Unity’s pause also affects the schedules of Rantoul, St. Joseph-Ogden, St. Thomas More and Uni High in volleyball or boys’ soccer — both, in Rantoul’s case.
Rescheduling volleyball and boys’ soccer matches typically is feasible, especially earlier in the season, because of the number of matches those teams play over the course of a campaign.
Football teams aren’t so lucky. The IHSA’s pandemic calendar is specifically laid out to permit each team six games before summer sports can begin next month.
“I think, with the IHSA bylaws and their policies in regards to football and the season limitations that we have, we won’t be able to reschedule our Week 1 game,” Hamilton said. “But we’re hoping and working closely with Champaign County Health Department to play Weeks 2 through 6.”