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Sports
UPDATED: Watseka cancels varsity football season

WATSEKA — The football season at Watseka Community High School has come to an earlier-than-anticipated conclusion.

The school administration announced Wednesday that the football team will be canceling the remainder of the varsity football season, effective immediately.

The Warriors’ nine-game season was set to conclude Oct. 22, and their homecoming game was held last Friday, a 28-6 loss to Hoopeston.

Citing issues which led to a low number of varsity football players, Watseka athletic director Barry Bauer said in the press release that it was “obviously a very tough decision to make for everyone involved.”

“But we felt based on an abundance of season-ending injuries, low student participation, and numerous other contributing factors, this decision is in the best interest of the program and for the current athletes,” Bauer stated. “We apologize for all of the inconveniences that this will cause our remaining opponents.”

Iroquois CUSD superintendent Dr. David Andriano said that out of the 22 players that were currently on the varsity team, nearly half of them were freshmen, something that put both player safety and program development at risk.

“I think the first thing you ever want to talk about is safety and making sure our kids aren’t going to get hurt ...,” Andriano said. “And when we’re doing that at the varsity level, the freshmen aren’t getting many chances to play, so it’s a double whammy.

“We can’t play a [junior varsity] game on Monday and a varsity game on Friday because we don’t have enough kids, and then [the freshmen] miss out on their experiences,” he added. “From a safety perspective we want to take care of the kids, and from a program perspective we want to make sure the kids can grow, learn and have those experiences.”

Football teams across the state have smaller roster sizes than in past years, which along with COVID-19, has helped lead to at least nine forfeits in each of the first four weeks of the football season.

Andriano said that there were no COVID-19 outbreaks or contact tracing issues that led to low numbers, but he did note that the pandemic, along with the 2020-21 season being played in the spring, might show the pandemic had an indirect impact on the current situation.

Former Watseka football coach Aaron Hilgendorf left for Mascoutah at the end of the season, and former assistant Stephen Rigsby was promoted late in the summer. Also last year, the team lost 19 seniors.

This season’s roster featured four seniors — Kage Brault, Chase Walwer, David Netzband and Shannon Woods — all of whom saw their prep football careers come to a premature end with the decision.

“They’ve gone through the program and are the backbone, and it’s supposed to be their time to shine,” Andriano said. “That’s heartbreaking to have to tell a senior that their season is over.”

And as someone with football deeply entwined into his background in administration, he said he understands how much the Watseka community might be hurting with Wednesday’s announcement.

“Those kids that are in the program are building character, not just on the field, but every day — you live it, you walk it and you show it with your actions,” Andriano said. “It makes a huge difference in their lives, and they have people like coach Rigsby, [assistant coach] John Anderson, quality people that I would love for my kids to be under and to have been coached by.

“They’re great people that care about the kids, not just football, and that’s how you build a program.”

While the varsity season has been canceled, the junior varsity team will finish the final four games on its schedule, as the school hopes to continue rebuilding a program that first began football in 1897, according to IHSA records.

As the football program’s numbers have dwindled this fall, the enrollment number at the high school has seen a slight bump this school year, sitting at 312 for 2021-22 after 293 last year, a five-year low. The K-12 district-wide enrollment climbed back up to 876 this year, a 4.1% increase from last year’s 840, but still more than 100 less than the 977 students the district had in 2017-18.


Local
Vaccination rates climb at Riverside, AMITA

KANKAKEE — While AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital may be behind its group’s other medical centers in terms of COVID-19 vaccinations, the Kankakee hospital now has a 63 percent vaccination rate.

At Kankakee-based Riverside Healthcare, officials reported Wednesday its vaccination rate for its 2,913-member workforce has climbed to 65 percent.

For AMITA locally, the percentage equates to about 478 employees who are fully or working their way to full vaccination.

Systemwide, St. Mary’s is somewhat behind its sister locations as the AMITA system is reporting a 76 percent vaccination rate.

And with the Nov. 12 deadline rapidly approaching for staff vaccinations to be completed at AMITA, the ramifications for its approximate 760-member staff may be coming into focus.

State mandates require all healthcare staff to be vaccinated. While the majority of healthcare workers at both local hospitals have received the required vaccinations, there are some in the medical field who have stated they will not comply even if the end result is the loss of their job.

In late August, AMITA Health noted it would provide a process through which requests for exemption can be made if an employee is not able to get vaccinated due to a medical condition or strongly held religious belief.

These exemption requests are being reviewed by members of the Associate and Occupational Health, Human Resources and Mission teams, according to the hospital.

Tim Nelson, an AMITA spokesman, said this week he did not have figures yet as to how many employees may be seeking a religious or other exemption from the vaccination.

Chris Shride, president of AMITA Health St. Mary’s, said in an email response to the Journal, the pandemic has taken a toll on all parts of our community and those in health care have “born a heavier burden than most.”

He said as in prior circumstances, healthcare professionals are needed and called on to lead, even when it’s difficult for the individuals and the organization.

“Authentic caring is never the easiest path. It is, however, our call and our core mission,” he said. “Vaccination against COVID-19 is the most basic step we as a united community can take to best protect one another. In this, healthcare professionals will answer the call.”

He added the hospital has seen a dramatic increase in the number of employees vaccinated in recent days.

While these healthcare networks are experiencing upticks in COVID vaccinations, last week the Kankakee County Board of Health, the body which oversees the Kankakee County Health Department, unanimously voted down an administration-backed mandatory vaccination program.


Coronavirus-local
31% of new COVID cases are under the age of 18

KANKAKEE — In the past week, there have been 397 new cases of COVID-19 in Kankakee County, according to the Kankakee County Health Department as of Tuesday evening.

In total, Kankakee County has reported 16,926 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14,595 recoveries.

Of the 397 new cases, 123 — or 31 percent — are had by people under the age of 18, according to the health department.

Kankakee County has reported 250 total COVID-related deaths.

There were 38 new hospitalizations in the county in the week ending Sept. 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID data tracker.

As of Tuesday, the hospital bed availability in Region 7, which is comprised of Kankakee and Will counties, was at 23 percent and its seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 patients in the hospital was 124, according to IDPH.

Community transmission of the virus was most recently tracked on Tuesday at 330 positive cases in the past week per 100,000 people in the county, according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker. More than 100 cases per 100,000 is considered high.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported that the seven-day rolling average of positive tests out of total tests taken in Kankakee County was 6.9 percent on Sept. 19, a decrease from the recent high of 8.9 percent on Sept. 13. Region 7 had 4.8 percent average test positivity on Sept. 19.

There are 2,081 cases currently active in Kankakee County, according to the health department.

Iroquois County

In Iroquois County, there have been 83 new cases in the past seven days as of Monday, according to the Iroquois County Public Health Department.

In that time, two individuals with COVID-19 have died, the health department said.

There have been 3,282 confirmed cases and 665 probable cases of COVID-19 in total, ICPHD reported.

Iroquois County has seen seven new COVID hospitalizations in the week ending on Sept. 19, according to the CDC’s data tracker.

The seven-day rolling average of test positivity in Iroquois County was 5.8 percent on Sept. 19, according to IDPH data.

The delta variant of COVID-19 has been identified in Kankakee and Iroquois county individuals.

The population of Kankakee County is 41.3 percent vaccinated and Iroquois County is 39.93 percent vaccinated, as of IDPH’s Wednesday data.


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