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IHSA begins offering low-risk winter sports

by Mindy Carls correspondent

IHSA schools in Henry County can begin offering low-risk winter sports, the association announced on Friday, Jan. 15.

That was the day that Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Henry, Rock Island, Stark and other counties in Region 2 can loosen restrictions, along with two other regions. Region 2 also includes Bureau, Mercer, Henderson, Warren and Knox counties.

“This is certainly positive news for three regions of the state, but we still have a long way to go until we get all of our student-athletes back to being active,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson, a native of Cambridge. “High school student-athletes are hurting from a mental, physical, and emotional standpoint, so we hope this is the first step toward getting that back to some normalcy.”

The IHSA’s low-risk sports include bowling, cheerleading, dance, girls gymnastics, boys swimming and diving, badminton. Teams can begin practice immediately.

IHSA board members will meet on Wednesday, Jan. 27, and topics will include setting start dates for competition in those sports, Anderson said.

“We realize there is a desire for finality on a sports schedule for 2020-21,” he said following the IHSA meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 13. “February seems realistic. If no sports have resumed by February, season lengths could be impacted in certain sports, and we may need to take a longer look at the likelihood of true seasons being conducted in high-risk sports this year.

“Our overall goal remains unchanged, as we hope to conduct all IHSA sports during the remainder of the school year calendar,” Anderson said. “Please know that we see and read many of the comments and messages from student-athletes, coaches, and parents, and that we are doing everything we can to try and bring IHSA sports back within the current parameters we are working in.”

Winter high-risk sports are boys and girls basketball. Teams can begin training immediately, but activities cannot include physical contact.

Spring and summer sports can start contact days on Monday, Jan. 25. Coaches and athletes must follow the Illinois Department of Public Health’s All-Sports Policy. Contact days are informal voluntary offseason workouts.

Weight training is allowed with masks and social distancing.

"The IHSA acknowledges the immense mental, emotional, and physical strain that a lack of contact with school programs is causing Illinois high school student-athletes,” Anderson said. “It is our intention that these contact days provide sport-specific training under the leadership of high school coaches. This is an effort to provide a viable sports option to high school athletes given the growing number of student-athletes opting for higher risk opportunities within the state and across state lines."

IHSA and IESA staff members met with state public health leaders on Jan. 6, Anderson said.

“We are trying to do our part to fight the pandemic, while simultaneously seeking safe participation opportunities for our student-athletes,” he said. “School-based athletic participation is better regulated, making it the safest participation option for our students. More data continues to support that stance. “