On Monday, September 14th the IHSA (Illinois High School Association) Board of Directors held a virtual meeting to approve several new guidelines for the IHSA Return to Activities plan. The meeting also addressed a motion to allow athletes to compete for outside teams during the high school season.
The Board of Directors announced that they would be removing the weekly competition limit that had previously been in place for all winter, spring and summer sports. Previously sports during those seasons had been limited to a maximum of two competitions per week. Teams will now be allowed to compete in as many competitions as they like, beginning with the winter season.
“We have preached that this school year will be fluid, and the changes made by the Board today are a good example of that. When the IHSA’s initial Return To Activities guidelines were established, the limitation of two contests per week felt like a constraint that would help limit exposure. However, given how well our state is handling the pandemic, and the lack of setbacks in the fall sports we have conducted so far, there was a consensus that we could move forward with allowing schools to schedule winter, spring, and summer sports without further restrictions.”
The Board also reviewed a request by Highland High School, located just East of St. Louis in Southern Illinois, to allow athletes to compete with their club and high school teams synchronously during the high school season.
The request was made specifically to deal with the changes of high school sports seasons to deal with the ongoing pandemic, though many in the state would like to see it extended to even more ‘normal’ years. Especially in team sports like volleyball, there are distinct seasons for high school competition and club competition, designed to avoid overlaps, conflicting practices, and forcing athletes to choose between the two. Those overlaps become unavoidable if fall seasons are played in the spring instead.
While some states allow athletes to compete in both USA Swimming competition and high school competition during their designated season, like Texas, Illinois requires athletes to compete and train exclusively for one or the other. Other states, have varying degrees of restrictions on athletes participating in both club and high school swimming in the same season, including notably California.
While swimming was not listed as one of the sports being requested to be granted an exemption to this rule, it would have most likely been granted the exemption, as well as the listed sports of volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, and softball. The request by Highland was ultimately denied, citing COVID-19 precautions.
“There was a lengthy and spirited discussion on if we should provide an exemption to this rule given the unprecedented nature of the school year. The Board understands both sides of the argument and has heard from passionate advocates for each scenario. Ultimately, concerns over safety and equity left them uncomfortable with providing an exemption to this rule today. They consider the matter tabled for the time being, but may revisit if there is support from the advisory committees in these respective sports.”
While Illinois is currently allowing high school competition, the format of meets is being altered to ensure athlete and staff safety. Meets are currently allowed a maximum of 50 people on deck. The state is also currently not allowing meets to hold relay events, hoping to minimize athletes being in close proximity to each other and touching shared surfaces.
Illinois has had a total of 267,164 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. While this ranks them in the top-10 for most confirmed cases in a state, their average of 1,466 new cases per day over the past week represents a steep drop from the 2,166 new cases reported during the first week of September.
Cutting the Cord on the Co-Op
In other swimming-related decisions, the Board also heard and approved a request made by Aurora (Illinois Math and Science Academy) and Yorkville High School to no longer compete as one team during girl’s swimming and diving season. Previously the schools held a cooperative agreement allowing them to compete as one team during the high school season under the name of Illinois Math and Science Academy.