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'It's a different role for us to fill:' Football heads to spring; baseball, softball and track to summer

Sycamore's Logan Egler tries to pull free from DeKalb's Donovan Lacey during First National Challenge Friday in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Sycamore's Logan Egler tries to pull free from DeKalb's Donovan Lacey during First National Challenge Friday in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

When he found out that football will be a spring sport this year, DeKalb football coach Keith Snyder had one reaction.

"Now we're just looking to get 1-0 on March 5," he said with a chuckle, referencing his motto as a coach.

The IHSA announced changes to its sports schedule for the 2020-21 school year Wednesday. Football, girls volleyball and boys soccer will compete in the spring of 2021. Golf, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving will compete this fall in groups of 50 or fewer people. Those sports must compete within their conference or within their Illinois COVID region.

All sports will face shortened regular season, and state tournaments will be determined on a sport-by-sport basis.

The IHSA announcement came hours after Gov. JB Pritzker announced restrictions at sports on all levels. Low-risk sports – which include baseball, bowling, cross country, badminton, gymnastics, softball, tennis and track and field – can compete at Level 3 of 4, which includes conference or league play and conference and state championships.

Basketball and volleyball are among medium-risk sports, which are at Level 2 – practices for teams only with parental consent and no games.

High-risk sports, including football and wrestling, are at Level 1 and allow only non-contract practices and training.

The restrictions apply to sports at every level except college and professional, not just high school.

So while there won't be football in the fall, Snyder said he's glad the IHSA is giving players and coaches the chance to have a season this year – even if it has a different feel.

"We aren't going to be the next sport on board," Snyder said. "Basketball and wrestling take precedent. It's a different role for us to fill. We have to make sure kids play basketball and wrestling to get those sports in first. If a kid plays another sport, they will work on that. That gives us a chance to get our hands on another kid. We'll coach what comes through the door. ... And when players from other sports show up, we'll coach those guys."

Snyder also said there would be 20 contact days allowed by the IHSA in September and October.

Sycamore athletic director Chauncey Carrick said he was expecting some kind of plan that would allow all sports at least a chance of being played. He said he was glad to see it.

"All in all it allows kids to play games," Carrick said. "We shouldn't have a situation like we had last spring. As long as everybody follows guidelines and does what they're supposed to we should be good."

Brayten Wilkerson, a senior for the DeKalb wrestling and football teams, said he can't wait for his seasons to start. He played football last year but was injured during wrestling season.

He said he's not really concerned about an injury in wrestling sidelining his football season.

"After that last injury, the only thing I think about is working hard every day and getting better, getting healthy," Wilkerson said. "I'm actually grateful I was injured because I never worked out so much and so hard in my life. It was cool going to physical therapy and learning about the human body. For me, this year, I'm not worried about injuries. ...I just want the best for me and my guys."

Christine Shipley, whose daughter Ella plays soccer and basketball for Sycamore, said she feels lucky that her family's plans aren't going to change too much. Both soccer and basketball are set for their normal spring and winter seasons.

"Honestly I feel like we're one of those families least affected by this," Shipley said. "Not only the fact that the season hasn't really been upended but also the fact she plays sports with pretty decent exposure from travel or AAU. So if she decides to play after high school, that exposure is still there. ... We're very fortunate cause we're not as affected by this. But that being said I don't envy the IHSA or officials who have to make difficult decisions. I'm grateful for the IHSA doing what they can to have some sort of a season."

The announcement came the same day as Indiana announced all sports are on as regularly scheduled with football in the fall.

But Snyder said he's looking at the visitation optimistically.

"You can say you're going to do it but you have no idea what's going to happen once you get into it," Snyder said. "Sure it looks good on paper but a lot of things looked good on paper six months ago. Then we learned things change at the last second. This is the best chance to give ourselves three different seasons. We got shortchanged last year but now this gives us the best chance to make sure what happened to the Class of 2020 doesn't happen again. That's what I'm most excited about."

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