July 21, 2020 – Fourth of July parties may have hurt the chances for high school football and other contact sports this fall. After the Independence Day holiday, a few schools reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases among students.
“It had nothing to do with football and the activities that our schools were doing. It was what they were doing when they were away from our schools that have caused a few new cases,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of the Illinois High School Association.
The rise in cases among Illinois high school students got the attention of the Illinois Department of Public Health. As a result, the department changed its guidelines for school sports practices. Contact drills that had been approved on July 1, were once again prohibited.
Not a good sign for Anderson and many Illinois parents who had been hoping to see school sports on the calendar as usual this fall. Another indicator makes sports that involve physical contact, such as football, soccer, volleyball, and cross country uncertain for fall 2020.
Some Illinois teacher organizations are advocating for starting the new school year with “all remote” learning instead of in-person classes. If fall classes are all virtual, and students are home all day, having them get to school in the afternoons for practices and other activities is a difficult proposition that sends the wrong message, Anderson said.
Gov. J.B. Prtizker recently divided Illinois into 11 regions during the COVID-19 crisis. One option that is being discussed is having schools in central and southern Illinois and other regions where there are fewer COVID-19 cases, reopen for in-person classes and sports this fall. Larger schools in regions where there are more cases and more problems with safety could cancel fall sports and continue with virtual learning.
The Illinois High School Association members will meet Wednesday to discuss all the options for the soon-to-be-here fall sports season. Some parents and sports fans are angry at the Illinois High School Association for not lobbying harder for a full fall sports calendar. Anderson says his organization is a non-profit with a membership of schools throughout the state.
“Our governance is strictly independent,” Anderson said.
IHSA takes no money from the state. It raises its funding from ticket sales at state series events. The Department of Education oversees Illinois schools, but it does not involve itself in sports policy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health and safety of students, coaches and spectators has been the No. 1 concern. Anderson said the IHSA is “leaning on IDPH, the governor’s office and medical experts to guide them.”