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Football moves to spring as IHSA creates four-season schedule

When the prep sports season begins next month, like most everything else in the COVID-19 world, it will look nothing like any other preceding Illinois high school sports year.

The Illinois High School Association announced major changes to the 2020-21 sports schedule Wednesday, chief among them being the transfer of sports — football, girls volleyball and boys soccer — from their traditional fall season to the spring.

The move also includes changing the sports calendar from three seasons to four abbreviated seasons, meaning student-athletes will be competing in IHSA-sanctioned sports through the entire month of June. Some fall sports — such as golf and cross country — will stay on course to start next month.

Hours after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a plan in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Public Health concerning youth and adult recreational sports, the IHSA released the new schedule that came as a result of Wednesday’s board of directors meeting.

The state’s new guidelines created three risk levels concerning COVID-19 for all sports — higher, medium and lower. Upon the release of those guidelines, the IHSA’s much-anticipated announcement of this year’s schedule showed that the four traditional fall sports deemed lower-risk by the IDPH — boys and girls golf, boys and girls cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving — will be permitted to begin their seasons as normal on Aug. 10 and will tentatively end Oct. 24, roughly a month earlier than normal.

The fall season is set to end on Oct. 17. The winter sports season, which consists of boys and girls basketball, boys swimming and diving, wrestling, cheerleading, dance, girls gymnastics and boys and girls bowling, will start Nov. 16 and end Feb. 13, 2021.

Boys gymnastics, boys and girls water polo, and girls badminton will join football, girls volleyball and boys soccer in a spring season that spans Feb. 15 to May 1, 2021.

The new summer season will be comprised of baseball, softball, boys and girls track and field, girls soccer, boys volleyball, boys and girls lacrosse, and boys tennis. The summer season will start May 3, 2021, and conclude June 26, 2021.

The new plan is pending approval of the Illinois Department of Public Health, which has worked with the IHSA along the way as guidelines and updates have come throughout the summer. IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a press release Wednesday that the situation and schedule could change yet again.

“This plan, like nearly every aspect of our current lives, remains fluid,” Anderson said. “Changes may come, and if they do, we will be agile while putting safety and students first. It was important that we provide a framework today for our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and officials to begin preparing for the 2020-21 school year.”

The plan for the fall to keep the lower-risk sports in their normal season slot and move others to the spring is one that has both pros and cons. For Manteno athletic director Doug Wenzel, although there was some disappointment, the glass is half-full considering the obstacles and options.

“I think when it comes down to it, the safety and the health and welfare of our student-athletes have to be at the forefront of the decision-making,” Wenzel said. “So all in all, what came out today could have been much worse.

“We’re getting some fall activity started in August, and at the same time there have been no sports seasons that have been canceled.”

Pritzker’s unveiling earlier in the day covered more than the IHSA and Illinois Elementary School Association, which canceled all fall sports last week. It also created new requirements for youth travel and recreational leagues, private and recreational leagues, as well as park district leagues.

Anderson said that the IHSA was made to believe Pritzker’s announcement would be coming at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, set to align with the IHSA’s plan on releasing their announcement just prior to that at 2 p.m.

“Originally we anticipated and it was shared with us that the Governor would speak [Wednesday] at 2-2:30, and so it wasn’t until we were in the midst of our meeting today and through text message that I got word that the governor was going to speak at noon,” Anderson said. “But through our conversations yesterday, we anticipated putting our plan out first and then the governor and his address was going to reference the materials that we presented.

“Unfortunately that timeline didn’t work with the governor’s press conference moving up to the noon time frame.”

In his press conference Wednesday, Pritzker said that state bodies continued working alongside governing bodies such as the IHSA with the regulations released Wednesday.

“Whether this year is their first time on the court or it’s their senior season — this isn’t the news anyone wants to hear,” Gov. Pritzker said of the IDPH update. “But with rising rates of spread of the virus, with rising positivity rates throughout Illinois and the United States, this is a situation where the toughest choice is also the safest one. Therefore today, my administration is releasing new guidance restricting youth and adult recreational sports in Illinois.

“We have worked in consultation with the governing bodies of many of these organized sports programs, and collectively we hope that, when metrics and risks improve measurably, we will be able to restart these sports.”

The IDPH guidelines currently state that lower-risk sports can participate in the first three tiers of a four-tiered Type of Play Levels, medium-risk sports can participate in the first two and higher-risk can only engage in the first level. This is for all sports leagues, not just the IHSA.

Level 1 allows training only. Level 2 allows scrimmages within a team, as long as minors have parental consent. No competitive play is allowed. In Level 3, conference, regional and league meets and games are allowed, and state and league championships are allowed in lower-risk sports. Level 4 allows tournaments, out-of-conference and out-of-league play, multi-team meets, out-of-state play and state tournaments.

Bourbonnais Township Park District cancels large-scale events

BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais Township Park District has canceled all remaining large-scale special events for 2020.

District officials say the decision is based on guidelines set forth in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois Phase 4, which restricts events with more than 50 people.

The remaining 2020 events canceled include Scarecrow Hollow, A Night in Sleepy Hollow, Haunted Hike, Cause for Paws and the Turkey Trot.

“We have been talking about it since June,” BTPD Executive Director Hollice Clark said. “We were truly waiting to see if we could hold the events. We wanted to see what [Manteno] Oktoberfest and [Bourbonnais] Friendship Festival would do. When they canceled, it was the right thing to do.”

Clark said the district “looks forward to showcasing Perry Farm in all its splendor each fall so this was a tough call to make. But we have to prioritize the health and safety of our staff and our community.”

“There is great entertainment that brings out young and old alike,” he said. “We will be back next year after we ride this out.”

The annual display of scarecrows created by local groups, organizations, schools and businesses has been a smash in its seven years. In its initial year, there were 54 scarecrows. In each of the last four years, it has sold out its 150 spots.

“It’s a sad day,” Clark said about the event’s cancellation. “The scarecrows brought a lot of creativity from the area. It drew thousands of people to check them out.”

The event typically drew between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors, Clark said.

Clark said he talked to a senior citizen who said the only time she got her husband to walk with her was when the scarecrows were up. They came by daily.

“He told her he found a different detail in each one every day,” Clark said.

Despite the event cancellations, Clark said the district will continue to connect with and serve the community in a variety of ways.

There have been programs converted to virtual offerings and many classes and activities have been designed to abide by social distancing requirements.

The fall program guide will be offered online beginning mid-August. Residents will not be receiving the guide in the mail, but all facilities will have hard copies available.

School districts change plans, offer remote learning to all students

Some school districts are modifying their reopening plans after recent guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education called for a remote learning option to be offered to all students.

On July 23, ISBE issued a 103-page document of updated guidance on returning to school in fall 2020.

“ISBE strongly recommends in-person learning but understands that during this unmitigated crisis intermittent closures may be unavoidable ... Even if a district reopens for in-person learning there will be some students who cannot attend, and districts must be prepared to meet the needs of those students through remote learning,” the guidance states.

Herscher School District changed its back-to-school plan to allow all students to choose a remote learning option regardless of medical necessity.

Previously, the district planned to bring students back for full days of completely in-person learning and allow students with a doctor’s note to opt to continue remote learning.

The district will now be shortening school days to half days.

In-person learners will attend school from 8 to 11:45 a.m., with grab-and-go lunches served. Teacher office hours and remote instruction will take place from 1:30 to 3:15 p.m.

District staff will supervise pre-kindergarten through eighth grade in-person learners who are unable to go home early until 3:05 p.m.

Superintendent Rich Decman said the half days will be in place for the foreseeable future.

“However, the plan is completely fluid,” he said. “It could change at a moment’s notice [with new guidance].”

The half days mean class periods will be shortened. At Herscher High School, classes will be 25 to 30 minutes.

By early Wednesday afternoon, a little over 50 families had requested fully remote learning out of 724 that completed the district’s survey, or roughly 7 percent.

“We are trying to abide by all the guidance and mandates, and we will continue to do so,” Decman said.

Momence School District also changed gears to include a fully remote option in its reopening plan.

In Momence, students will be divided into two attendance groups based on alphabetical order and attend school and learn from home on alternating days.

In-person school days will be shortened to half days as well, with students to complete the day with remote learning after school. All families will be offered a fully remote option.

Superintendent Shannon Anderson said about 25 percent of families that responded to the district’s survey this week indicated they want fully remote learning.

Anderson said administrators had been looking into expanding the learning options available, but they had not figured out how they would do so until the remote learning option was mandated.

He said the district’s pandemic response team had thoroughly reviewed the first set of guidelines from ISBE and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The team had to meet again to update the plan in light of the new guidance ahead of Monday’s school board meeting, when a final plan was approved.

“We made some modifications to the plan, and then we felt comfortable that it was focused on the safety of students, the safety of staff, and on learning,” Anderson said.

The team will also be periodically reevaluating the plan to make modifications as necessary.

“We need strong leaders during this time, but we also need people to be considerate and flexible, which is what we have been seeing from the community,” Anderson said. “We will continue to do our best, stay abreast of changes and adapt.”

{p dir=”ltr”}{span}Manteno School District is also altering its plans based on the recent guidance.{/span}

{p dir=”ltr”}{span}Superintendent Lisa Herrod said in a post on the district’s Facebook page that both remote and in-person instruction will be offered at all three schools. {/span}

{p dir=”ltr”}{span}“There has been a lack of coordination and communication that has caused Illinois (s)chools to be working with a moving target in many areas,” she wrote about the recent guidance. “{span}We appreciate your patience as we work through these changes and send information directly to parents.”{/span} {/span}

{p dir=”ltr”}{span}Manteno’s back-to-school plan will be released within the next couple of days, according to the district office. {/span}