Distanced conditioning

Bradley-Bourbonnais assistant coach Lucas Regnier, a 2020 BBCHS graduate, sanitizes the weightlifting stations between groups of football players last month.

Just after high school sports started looking as though they they were on the right path to normalcy, the IHSA announced Thursday afternoon it was tweaking Phase 4 of the Return to Play guidelines that took effect earlier in the week.

The IHSA stated in an email to athletic directors and in a news release the modifications to last week’s document would include eliminating any contact drills/physical contact among student-athletes, as well as forcing all persons to wear masks while indoors. Furthermore, as it relates to the maximum grouping of 50 people, it is now a strict limit and shall include any and all spectators.

Previously, contact was allowed and masks were not allowed during physical activity, and spectators were not included in the required capped groups of 50. This back-and-forth with the guidelines has confused some area athletic officials and coaches.

“We need our kids to get back to some type of normalcy,” Kankakee athletic director Ronnie Wilcox said. “I’m not saying to go fully back to normal, but to totally pull back to this extreme, I don’t think that’s in the best interest of our student-athletes.”

The update comes not even a full week removed from when IHSA athletic programs were set to be allowed 20 contact days between June 30 and Aug. 9. For the past week, several programs locally and statewide began using those days.

But with the new regulations Thursday, changes were made quickly, and some schools put athletic programs on hold.

“I told all of our coaches I don’t want our kids passing out because they have to wear masks,” Bradley-Bourbonnais athletic director Mike Kohl said. “That’s the last thing we are going do.”

Kohl doesn’t want his kids struggling to heat exhaustion because of wearing a mask and already has ruled out indoor sports for Bradley-Bourbonnais for the time being.

“If we have to wear a mask, we aren’t doing sports at all,” he said. “Our indoor sports are on hold as of right now.”

Because of this major setback, all high school administrators and coaches will have to weigh the difficult decisions on how to move forward within the new rules.

Arguably the biggest sport to take a hit because of all the rules and regulations regarding the coronavirus, football teams across the state just can’t seem to catch a break.

Teams already had begun holding contact practices this week and began holding practices with a football, a bump up from Phase 3’s limit to just conditioning.

As short-lived as it was, the contact practices this week seemed to uplift the players’ mental health as they got a chance to practice in somewhat normalcy. And that didn’t make things any easier for them as they had to hear for a second time things are being set back.

“My kids were really excited to get back as a group this whole week, and so I shared the IHSA news with them, and they are obviously upset about it,” Kankakee football coach Derek Hart said. “But it’s all about being safe and keeping the kids safe.

“I just wish this plan was put in place with the original Phase 4 of the Return to Play Guidelines at the beginning of the week because it would have been easier on our kids.”

The recent update since has shifted every football coach’s plan on what they were preparing to do for the rest of the offseason. Camps and 7-on-7 tournaments alike are in limbo as guidelines and ideas seem to be working at a no-huddle rate.

“Things are changing now, so there is no contact at all between athletes, which obviously changes things for us in football …” Hart said. “Now, with the new provisions, there’s going to be zero contact, which will take out all our 1-on-1s and 7-on-7s.”

Surely not everything is lost for football because of the modifications. Players still will be able to do some things, but a majority of it will be very difficult.

“A receiver could still catch a ball from a quarterback, and you could possibly still hit a sled, but only if you don’t have to wear a mask,” Kohl said. “We can’t wear masks in the weight room; you just can’t do it.

“I don’t care how nice or thin the masks are, it’s just too hard to breathe, even in air conditioning.”

Similar to football programs, soccer teams got a short-lived opportunity to practice with a ball this past week. The Manteno boys soccer squad held early morning workouts to work on technical and tactical drills while simultaneously having many water breaks to help bear with extreme heat during the past few days.

“The biggest thing is we were finally able to get on the ball, and we had really good numbers in Phase 3 with our fitness and conditioning only, but toward the end of it, you started to see a decline in those numbers,” Manteno boys soccer coach Justin Emerson said. “So, being able to get on the ball this week was probably the best thing and newest thing for these kids.”

Even for sports that are safely able to practice proper social distancing, such as golf, some teams have decided to play it safe and wait until a more clear set of ideas comes in.

“My understanding is that we can hold some practices of 50 or less, and we are never going to have that many anyway,” Beecher boys golf coach David Serafin said. “I’m not sure how we are going to be able to handle everything yet, so it’s going to be touch and go.”

Given golf is a contactless sport, the new modifications have little effect on golf teams across the state. Golfers have had the ability to work on their games for more than a month at local courses and tournaments.

The only difficulty in that is the student-athletes have had to either learn from a private tutor or self-teach during this time in quarantine.

“There’s enough kids on my squad that we’re out playing and found tournaments and have been out playing, just without any sort of guidance from our coaching staff,” Serafin said. “I think the ones who are really into it will show progress, and the ones who took this time to game, those are the ones that will hurt the most. And we probably have an equal amount of both.”

Fortunately for Herscher volleyball, the team had yet to begin operating under the initial guidelines of Phase 4. Because of district gym space having asbestos cleaning, the Tiger volleyball team has just been sharing space with the basketball team and working on the simple things.

Although Herscher’s volleyball squad already was cautious about having a season before the modifications of Phase 4 came into effect, it is more focused on just being able to have normalcy in the classroom.

“My kids just want school to start normally,” Tigers volleyball coach Joel Huizenga said. “Obviously, volleyball is a big deal, and they want to get back to it, but they just want to get back in school — they don’t want remote learning, and they just want to see normalcy.”

If there happens to be some sort of fall sports season, teams all across the state will seem to be in the same boat with the limited practices.

“The summer competitiveness is what we are going to miss out on,” Huizenga said. “Being able to look at how our system is going to adapt and how our new players are going to fulfill roles, those things are going to take a little longer and be a little delayed in that, but it is what it is, and all schools are kind of all in the same boat.”

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