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Local Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: IHSA decision offers two guarantees: abnormality and anger

It won’t be the same.

No matter what the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors decides Wednesday, July 29, about the fall sports season, the coming months won’t look like we remember.

Outright cancellation is clearly unorthodox. Delaying seasons or moving fall sports to spring also would be stark. It’s not impossible to play Illinois high school football in April, but it certainly would be strange.

Yet even choosing to play on isn’t a vote for returning to normal.

It’s possible to fill up sidelines with players and coaches who passed COVID-19 tests, put referees in masks, kick off and hope for the best. But those stadiums that light up Friday night skies won’t be as densely packed — if they’re filled at all. Homecoming parades and pep rallies are going to be scuttled, or at the very least drastically altered to keep participants and spectators safe.

There are plenty of good reasons to keep kids active and competitive, and some benefits outweigh risks. We’ve been able to keep our sons active in gymnastics and have one playing baseball. Organizers for both established extensive health and safety modifications, we discussed our options as a family and forged ahead, talking extensively to the kids about their obligations to themselves, their teammates and the community.

There was extra expense (one example: we bought catcher’s gear because sharing was outlawed) and plenty of spectator considerations. Concession stands and bathrooms are closed this year. So are the bleachers, because of dugout capacity rules, which means watching games from behind the outfield fences. The umpires stand behind the mound instead of crouch behind the plate. The postgame handshake line is replaced with a mutual cap-doffing. Please, no high fives.

It’s different, but worthwhile. Similar safety modifications seem possible for many fall sports. Tennis and golf are the easiest. Diving seems fairly safe. Perhaps cross country could be run with staggered start times. Swim meets are less flexible. Soccer edges closer to football in terms of how often it brings opponents within close proximity, but youth tournaments seem to be carrying on without major incident. 

Yet the IHSA has to consider not just the safety of sports, but the context of abnormal high school life this semester. Even if directors choose to stage sports while campuses are fully or partially closed to students, inevitably some families will opt out of competing. Athletes and coaches will fall ill, forcing last-minute adjustments to practice and playing schedules. And we’ll barrel toward the winter season, reviving the same debates without the benefits of fresh air.

We might have school sports. We might not. The only guarantees are that no matter what’s decided, it won’t be normal and someone will be mad.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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