By James Kay
Over the last five months, high school athletes, parents and coaches have waited for a firm answer on what a year in prep sports would look like. Last week, the IHSA announced it will pivot from a traditional three-season campaign and replace it with four shortened seasons.
Some of the most notable changes in the schedule include football being moved to the spring along with boys soccer and girls volleyball. Cross country, golf, girls tennis and swimming and diving will be the only sports that will commence when the season opens.
Even with a tentative schedule in place (Aug. 10-Oct. 24 for fall sports), there is still a lot left up in the air.
"I'd love to have a sectional, conference and state meet but I have no idea what that will look like under these circumstances," said OPRF boys cross country and track coach Chris Baldwin. "I have seen preliminary stuff where it's three teams and no more than 50 competitors in a race, but I really don't know what it could look like. I know our athletic director is working on figuring that out, but the situation can change at any moment."
One problem that athletic programs could run into as they try to plan the fall season is traveling from school to school. There have been theories floating around that teams could limit competition to conference-only matchups to limit travel. However, the IHSA states in its guidelines that social-distancing must occur when traveling to events. This could present a problem for teams that have large rosters.
Trinity's tennis head coach, Mary Smith, said there is some maneuvering teams can do to limit this potential obstacle.
"[During previous meets], eight players compete but we bring more [players] than that because we have exhibition matches," said Smith. "We aren't going to do that this year. As far as buses, we have had a lot of discussions. I believe Trinity is going at 25 percent capacity [for buses] with windows open, masks on, temperatures taken and other standard protocols for large buses. But there is a lot left that we have to figure out."
The athletic directors around the state will have to get creative in figuring out the logistics of the upcoming season, but the student-athletes seem content being able to have a somewhat abbreviated version of a sports season.
Fenwick's Max Reese, who plays basketball and football for the Friars, is just relieved that he will get the chance to suit up at some point this academic year.
"We expected [football being moved to the spring] to happen, but in reality it's not the worst thing that could have happened for us," said Reese. "There were mixed emotions about it being moved, but I feel like everyone is just happy we will get to put pads on this season."
In a normal year, football season would end before the start of the basketball season. This year, basketball will end on Feb. 13 before football officially begins on Feb. 15. Having spent the summer getting into shape for football, Reese doesn't think the transition will be too daunting for him not to participate in both sports.
"I pride myself on being a multi-sport athlete," said Reese. "For football, I am working on strength and conditioning which is what I will be doing for basketball. Right now, I'll go through a strength and conditioning workout and then go shoot some hoops before getting a workout in with my trainer. Then I will go run some routes with our quarterback [Kaden Cobb], so I am well-rounded and ready for anything."
Like Reese, OPRF swimmer Jasmine Woods is also content that there will be some form of a season this fall. Even with the challenge of monitoring COVID-19 symptoms in a sport that exclusively occurs indoors, Woods has faith in the precautions teams plan on taking this season.
"The last I heard, [the IHSA] is going to limit conference and state meets this year and spectators won't be able to go to any of the meets, which will be different for us," said Woods. "I think I can speak on behalf of the girls that we are just happy that things are going to be the way they are now rather than for us not to have a season.
"The seniors have worked so hard the last three years and were looking forward to the little stuff like leading chants, cheers and other things. It's been nice to see everyone back together again and swim, but be safe at the same time."
For more information, visit the IHSA's COVID-19 resources page on its website.
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