Prep Sports Return in Full; Winter Season Starts ASAP

IHSA spring championships
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Prep sports are back with the IHSA releasing start dates, end dates and state series information for winter, spring and summer sports.

In a highly anticipated announcement, the Illinois High School Association will begin competition for winter sports as soon as possible, with teams required to conduct seven practices before their first event. However, IDPH risk assessments and region mitigation level will still heavily influence the type of competition that can take place.

“Ultimately, the Board adhered to its stated goals throughout the pandemic: providing an opportunity for every IHSA student-athlete to compete safely this year and maximizing opportunities for traditional IHSA spring sports after they lost their entire season a year ago,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson.

When will Prep Sports Begin?

Included in the first wave of winter sports set to begin in qualifying regions: boys and girls basketball, boys’ swimming and diving, dance, cheerleading, boys and girls bowling, girls gymnastics, and badminton.

Spring sports will commence before the winter sports have concluded. Boys’ soccer will begin first on March 1 followed by football on March 3. Girls volleyball, boys gymnastics and boys and girls water polo start practice in the following weeks.

The summer season sports, with the exception of wrestling, will all begin on April 5, again, long before the conclusion of the prior season. Wrestling will wait until April 19 to kick off.

Risk Level

Despite a high-risk designation from the IDPH, boys and girls basketball will be allowed to return to competition as soon as possible in regions that meet Phase 4 criteria. Currently, regions 7 and 8 are in tier 1 mitigation and will need to lower the 7-day rolling positivity average before they the stage to allow competition. However, basketball teams may begin practicing immediately a part of Tier 1 in Naperville, with IDPH guidelines allowing intra-squad play.

Other high-risk IHSA sports not allowed to play games until phase 4 include boys and girls lacrosse, football, and wrestling.

“There are obviously no guarantees, as risk levels by sport and local region mitigation statuses will factor significantly. Postseason could mean being limited to a Regional or Sectional level of competition, but we have not ruled out the idea of playing a full state tournament in these traditional spring sports if possible. The overwhelming feedback we have heard from athletic directors and coaches was that returning to play in all sports should be the main goal,” said Anderson.

Health Considerations

The IHSA has announced that it will require all student-athletes to participate with masks on at all times. The exceptions are for swimmers and divers, gymnasts on an apparatus and at outdoor events where social distancing can be practiced.

Fans in attendance are also required to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“We still have regions of the state that need to make strides in order be able to play basketball this winter,” said Anderson. “That underscores the importance of our schools following all the mitigations and precautions. We need to maintain a positive trajectory not only to get winter sports going, but to make sure we do not have any regions regress before spring and summer sports have their opportunity. We can all do our part by wearing a mask and socially distancing.”

Season Overlap

Athletes will be allowed to participate in sports whose seasons may overlap. For example, a boys soccer player would be able to compete in the soccer season before joining the baseball team once their team’s soccer season concludes.

Winter sport athletes looking to play football must complete at least 12 football practices before participating in games. But for all other sports, athletes can begin competing in games immediately upon switching between sports.

State Series

What is still to be determined is that large-scale state series for various spring and summer sports. The IHSA has already ruled out state competition for basketball, swimming and diving, bowling, gymnastics, football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, and wrestling. Dance and Cheerleading will have a virtual state competition series.

A state series is still on the table for badminton, water polo, boys volleyball, girls soccer, baseball, softball, boys tennis, lacrosse, boys gymnastics, and track and field.

“The Board wants to do everything in their power to prevent spring sports from going two consecutive years with no postseason IHSA play,” said Anderson.

The final hurdle for our local sports teams is approval from the District 203 and 204 School Boards.

For more local sports info, check out Naperville Sports Weekly.