By Kyle Daubs
As Illinois officially moves into Phase 4, sports can start moving towards more normalcy.
The IHSA Stage 2 plan has been distributed to schools and has recommended practices for pre-workout, facilities cleaning, physical activity and athletic equipment, hydration, contests, and mask wearing.
IHSA is awaiting the plan to be cleared by the Illinois Health Department. If cleared, coaches will have up to 20 contact days.
Several local coaches took the time to comment on the restrictions for the upcoming fall season.
Coaches will be required to maintain a daily log of athletes that participate in summer workouts, which includes a process where athletes are screened for temperature and COVID-19 symptoms, such as fevers, chills, coughs and muscle aches.
Athletes exhibiting these symptoms won’t be allowed to participate in workouts.
“We will get started after Fourth of July,” said Mattoon High football coach Troy Johnson. “I’m just happy that we are moving forward. I’m going to do what they tell me. I’m a rule follower and we want to be as safe as possible.”
Coaches will be able to increase the number of athletes at practices. During Stage 1, groups were capped at 10, but that number grows to 50 individuals, indoors or outdoors, during Stage 2.
“Personally, I appreciate the guidelines for everyone to be safe and healthy,” said Mattoon High co-volleyball coach Lori Morton. “It only takes a couple minutes to ask the questions and take the temps. All the coaches are anxious to know what their season will look like. In the meantime, we will take what we can get. Right now, we are able to meet with the players outside on the track or in the weight room. Our groups have to be 10 or less, which has been really nice and more personable, but we are ready to get in the gym and play volleyball.”
Other pre-workout guidelines include sanitizing hands for 20 seconds before touching surfaces or participation. Students are also encouraged to shower and wash their clothing immediately upon returning from school.
Before and after use, adequate cleaning schedules will need to be created and implemented. That includes wiping down any hard surfaces, such as chairs, furniture, locker rooms, weight rooms and all equipment that might be used indoor or outdoors.
“It’s not ideal, but if that means we get to play, I will do whatever we have to do to get out there,” said Charleston Middle/High School softball coach Blain Mayhall. “Softball has travel softball playing every weekend. I think parents might have a different perspective, but, either way, I will do whatever it takes if that means we can play.”
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY & EQUIPMENT
Coaches are “encouraged to use a staged approach to build back up to full summer competitions,” according to the guidelines.. That means athletes who did not participate in Stage 1 are encouraged to follow the “fall acclimation schedule,” which is the 14-day preseason schedule.
Athletes can’t share any towels, clothing, or shoes while equipment such as bats, helmets and catchers gear will need to be cleaned.
“I saw they floated the number of 50, which should cover football and soccer, but, for tennis, I don’t see this being too much of a problem,” said MHS tennis coach Dwight Perry. “I’m hoping we can get together and start hitting. The kids have their own equipment. They are going to have to be responsible and take care of their own things. I’m just wanting to get back on the courts and hit some balls around.”
Hydration stations, such as water cows, water troughs, and water fountains, may be utilized to fill a student’s water bottle, but they must be cleaned after every practice and game. All students must bring their own water bottles, and sharing is not permitted.
“Up to this point, they bring their own,” said Johnson. “Some schools have the stations that require the handles where they have to grab and that becomes an issue. We are going to look into it more. We have ran the water through a pipe with the holes which requires no touching. We just want to be safe as possible, so we are going to keep looking into it.”
As long as Illinois remains in Stage 4, the IHSA will follow the guidelines for Stage 2. That means all fall games would be limited to 50 total participants.
Coaches, participants, volunteers, and referees may choose to wear a mask.
Among the 50 participants, that includes students, coaches, and referees, but does exclude spectators. However, if schools permit spectators, there will need to be a designated area where seating capacity is limited to 20 percent.
“I’m kinda hoping that we can move forward faster with that,” said Johnson. “We will adjust and overcome, but when the time comes around, fans are huge. They are important. We feed off that energy.”
Schools must also have information posted at entrances and around the facilities explaining the transmission and symptoms of COVID-19. Visitors will be encouraged to maintain social distancing and to stay home if symptoms emerge. For outdoor activities, spectators will be encouraged to bring their own chairs.
Along with that, concession stands will be allowed to open as long as the workers follow workplace guidelines set for restaurants.
“With cross country, we don’t have too much to worry about with equipment,” said MHS cross country coach Troy Haacke. “I’m hoping when we get to August there will be easier restrictions and we don’t go backwards. The start line is probably the biggest issue, but, once the gun goes off, they spread out more. Spectators shouldn’t be an issue easier. I think the kids are just looking forward to having a season.”