IHSA moves fall contact sports to spring, plans to go forward with certain fall sports


Alex Burstein

Lane Gymnasium sits empty before a basketball game in February. Athletes now await a return to play.

By Alex Burstein, Sports Editor

This story has been updated on 8/2/2020 to include girls track and field head coach Kelsi Frank’s opinion on IHSA’s decision

Hours after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced new rules on athletics, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced a new schedule for sports across the 2020-21 school year that allows for all athletes to have a chance to play this year, barring a rise in coronavirus cases.


The decision was published following a IHSA board meeting Wednesday morning that was not open to the public. The decision was originally expected around 2 p.m., but schools were notified a little before 3 p.m.


The schedule, which includes four seasons (fall, winter, spring and summer) instead of the usual three (all but summer), moves football, girls volleyball and boys soccer into the spring season. This allows more time for the coronavirus to slow down.


“I’m just very grateful for the fact that we are given hope once again,” said football player Payton Gavaldon, Div. 257. “With everything that’s going on I have come to realize there won’t be football, but with it moving to the spring I have hope we will be able to get back to playing when the time comes. It doesn’t matter when we play to me or any of my teammates. We just want to get back out there so with the changes it’s exciting to have something to look forward to once again.”


Girls tennis, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf and girls swimming and diving will all remain in the fall, as they are all deemed lower risk as long as they follow specific guidelines, such as groups of 50 or less and space between different groups. The entire guidelines were published by the Peoria Star Journal on Twitter. These sports are allowed to officially start Aug. 10, and the fall season will run through Oct. 24. 


Winter sports are expected to start Nov. 16. However, whether the sports can be played depends on the coronavirus. Among the sports expected to be in the winter season, wrestling, dance and cheerleading all are considered higher risk, while basketball is a medium risk.


Even months away, wrestling head coach Matthew Yan is skeptical of returning to sports this winter.


I’m glad the IHSA took the steps to rearrange the sports seasons in the interest of student safety,” Coach Yan said. “I do think their outlook for us to return November 16 is optimistic given the current spread of covid-19 in our community. That’s only a week later than our normal start date. Nevada, New Mexico and California have all moved their wrestling seasons to 2021, and I hope we do the same. Wrestling is a great sport that has the capacity to build strong, resilient people, and we’ll survive this crisis. In order to do that we need to take the strongest precautions and return only when it’s safe to do so.”


Girls basketball head coach Megan Molloy is just glad there is an initial plan set.


“I am happy that there are dates for a season,” Coach Molloy said. “I was scared we wouldn’t have one at all.” 


Winter sports also will end earlier than usual, ending Feb. 13, with spring sports getting started two days later, and going through May 1.


Among the spring sports are fall contact sports, along with girls badminton, boys gymnastics and boys and girls water polo. 


For rising senior football player Liam Bermejo, Div. 157, the move will give the team more time to practice and get ready under a new head coach.


“The ability to have our football season postponed until spring is one of much fortune,” Bermejo said. “I think I can speak for everyone on the team when I say we would not have been prepared or equipped to take on a full season with such little time this fall. With our new head coach, Dedrick Dewalt, just being verified and confirmed to lead practice just weeks ago, to the covid restrictions that have held back the possibility of student-led group practice; we just would not have been able to play and perform at our full potential this fall.”


The rest of the regular spring sports will play in the new “summer season,” which takes place from May 3 to June 26. Some students may have to choose between travel teams and school teams, with the summer season extending into most schools’ summer vacations.


Baseball, softball, boys and girls track and field, girls soccer, boys volleyball, boys and girls lacrosse and boys tennis all will be played in the summer season. The IHSA published the entire schedule for all seasons and sports.


Despite the changes, boys lacrosse head coach David Barr is looking forward to the positives of the season starting later, such as the different weather.


“Considering it usually snows during half our season, my guys are looking forward to finally playing lacrosse in some good weather next summer,” Coach Barr said. “While we’d all prefer a more ‘normal’ season, playing later in the year beats not playing at all. We respect the IHSA’s decision to prioritize the health of our athletes and we will be ready to go when it’s time to play.”


Pablo Lopez, the head coach for both boys and girls volleyball at Lane, appreciates the effort IHSA has made to allow all athletes to play this year.


“When the season for boys volleyball in the spring was canceled, I was deeply saddened for all the players, but most of all the seniors,” Coach Lopez said. “They worked really hard to prepare and I wanted them to have the best season ever. Therefore, this summer was super hard for me. I spent the whole summer thinking that they might cancel this fall season and the girls were going to suffer the same thing. I never want the players to miss out on a season and I especially don’t want it for the seniors. I am super happy and hopeful to learn that IHSA is doing everything possible to give them a season in the spring.”


Girls track and field head coach Kelsi Frank also is looking forward to the summer season after having this last season cancelled due to the pandemic.


“I feel IHSA is really trying to help the track and field athletes to have an opportunity to finish last year’s (2020) outdoor season that was taken away from them due to covid-19,” Coach Frank said. “I feel pushing it so late into the school year will bring its own set of challenges, but our coaching staff will be ready. If the team can get through this current situation together and be successful I know that this ‘summer track and field season’ will be one of the most successful for the Lane Tech track and field Ladies.”


Teams may have to stay inside their region or conference for play, especially in the fall. All of the current fall sports are allowed to play up to Level 3 of the Type of Play Levels, which allows for “Intra-conference or Intra-EMS-region or intra-league play/meets only,” according to the State of Illinois’ All Sports Guidance. The EMS regions are the 11 regions outlined by the Illinois Department of Health as part of Restore Illinois.


On top of this, while league and state championship games and meets technically are allowed for low-risk sports, the IHSA has yet to announce whether state tournaments will take place.


IHSA’s Executive Director, Craig Anderson, also said non-fall sports also will be allowed 20 contact days between Sept. 7 and Oct. 31 following a dead period starting Aug. 10, according to the Daily Herald.


Many questions remain for teams and athletes even after the announcements — questions about championships, fans, facilities, and even if the seasons will actually take place. Girls soccer coach Michelle Vale understands that there are unknowns, but still has optimism.


“We know that there is a lot of uncertainty ahead of us, and at this time are hopeful as we look ahead to resuming training and competition,” Coach Vale said. “The announcement made by the IHSA yesterday left a lot of us with questions that I think cannot be answered until later in the school year. I’m not sure what a shortened season that spans to June 26 will look like for our players. For a lot of reasons, it’s disappointing to not be able to play a regular season, but it was even more disappointing to not have been able to play this past season. There will need to be a lot of adjusting and willingness to compromise.”  


The IHSA has another board meeting planned for August, where they may lay out more details.


Though much is still up in the air Coach Lopez remains hopeful. 


“I really hope and pray that we will all be in a better place by then and we can all have our sports,” Coach Lopez said. “This could be a happy ending for all of us.”