Unfortunate news broke for junior high school athletes on Friday. 

The Illinois Elementary School Association unanimously voted to cancel all middle school fall sports for 2020-21 except basketball, which has a later start date.

That means softball, baseball, cross country and golf won’t be played this year.

Softball practices were scheduled to begin Monday, while tryouts for cross country and baseball were scheduled Aug. 3. Girls basketball tryouts do not start until Aug. 31. 

The IESA cited health and safety concerns related to COVID-19 in its decision. The board said it would not re-consider a partial season even if high schools decide to play their seasons.

The Illinois High School Activities Association will meet Wednesday with officials from the Illinois Health Department and the Illinois Board of Higher Education to determine the status of high school fall sports.

“The decisions made by the IESA Board of Directors were by far the most difficult decisions I have ever witnessed the Board make in my tenure with the IESA,” IESA executive director Steve Endsley said in a statement. “With there being so many unknowns regarding the re-opening of schools, the safety of the very students who participate in jr. high and middle school activities was at the very center of the discussion.”

Area coaches expected this IESA decision.

“I’m not surprised by any means about the decision made by the IESA,” said Mattoon Middle School cross country coach Sonja Wattles. “I had a feeling it was going to happen. However, it is very disappointing for our student athletes, especially those runners who did not have a track season in the spring.”

Junior high runners at Charleston Middle had been gathering to work out since mid-June.

“We’re still trying to process this,” said CMS cross country coach John McInerney. “None of it is shocking. It’s been predicted for the last couple of weeks. The writing was on the wall. We thought cross country had a chance with it being outside, but we just really feel for the kids who have been working so hard.”

Now, McInerney said they will consider other options. 

“The kids have worked hard this summer to stay fit and we’d love to have seen them race,” said McInerney. “AAU had held on, and held their track nationals last week. We are going to try and keep our kids training and follow the legal guidelines. It’s early, but all of these kids lost their track season. As coaches, we’d love to see them compete in races as long as they are safe. There’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

The board will meet again in late August to determine the fate of other sports, such as basketball.  

“COVID-19 has changed the world. This decision is not the end of the world,” the IESA statement read. “At the end of the day, we work with junior high and middle school students. They are not professional athletes; they are not college athletes; they are not even high school athletes. They will not be missing out on any college scholarships. These are mainly 12-14 year old kids who will have many more opportunities to participate.”

Still, many local athletes had hoped to play. 

“One of our kids was a softball player and wanted to do both,” said McInerney. “She was disappointed. These kids are hurting. I hope the high school hangs on, but there’s going to be a lot of pressure on them.”

To read the full statement by the IESA, click here.