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IHSA announces initial Return to Play guidelines

Schools can begin conditioning Saturday

Players break a huddle to go run conditioning drills on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, at Lyons Township High School in Western Springs, Ill.
Players break a huddle to go run conditioning drills on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, at Lyons Township High School in Western Springs, Ill.

High school summer sports are going to look and feel differently than ever before, but at least there soon will be some sort of workouts back on campuses.

The IHSA released its Return to Play Guidelines Friday, developed within the current structure of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan and approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health, for high school programs to soon enter Phase 1.

Schools may begin workouts Saturday, but must have permission from their local school district. The school also must be located in a Restore Illinois region that is in Phase 3 or better.

The guidelines were developed by the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Athletic directors around the state received emails Friday afternoon informing them what Phase 1 of the guidelines would look like to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s great. Let’s just get us back together,” Marian Central athletic director Curtis Price said. “It’s been since March 14, almost three months, since the last time we saw each other. It’s going to be exciting to watch the athletes train in preparation for this upcoming season.”

The guidelines still require social distancing, are restricted to groups no larger than 10 people (including coaches and a trainer) and will not be allowed to be sport-specific at the start.

“It’s a step forward,” McHenry AD Barry Burmeister said. “We’re going to proceed cautiously. There are a lot of moving parts to get this going. The coaches have been doing a great job getting them some Zoom workouts and we’ll probably continue with that (for a while). It’s not like tomorrow we’re going to start.”

Burmeister mentioned that he ordered cleaning and sanitizing materials for strength and conditioning coach John Beerbower in the weight room, but they have not yet arrived. Therefore, he estimates the weight room might not be ready for another week or two.

And, there will be managing a weight room schedule so athletes can lift with plenty of space between them.

Regarding weight training, the guidelines call for 6 feet between athletes, which means they will not be able to spot each other.

Other key points among the Phase 1 guidelines include:

• If social distancing cannot be maintained, masks should be worn.

• The groups are predetermined and should not change.

• Sessions can only include weightlifting, running and exercises to promote physical fitness.

• Sport-specific drills are not yet permitted and sport-specific equipment may not be used.

• Coaches must maintain a daily record of which athletes are participating and should monitor athletes for temperature or symptoms of the coronavirus. If symptoms are present, those athletes should not participate.

• Athletes must bring their own water bottles, towels and other personal equipment. There will be no use of locker rooms, shared water coolers or water fountains during this phase.

• An athletic trainer should be available for workouts and should wear masks for any interactions with athletes. Temperatures of athletes and coaches should be taken each day.

“I commend the IHSA SMAC for crafting a plan that fits within the framework provided by state leadership, and refuses to compromise safety,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said. “The IHSA Return to Play Guidelines offer some important steps in allowing student-athletes to reacclimate both physically and mentally to athletics, but more importantly, they allow each other go assess their own individual situation and determine if and when they want to proceed.”

Dr. Preston Wolin, the Surgeon/Director of Sports Medicine at Chicago Center for Orthopedics, served on the IHSA SMAC board.

“These guidelines fulfill the IHSA’s twin commitments to interscholastic sports and the health of the interscholastic athletes that play them,” Wolin said. “The SMAC has taken into account both the most recent news about the virus, and the opinions of experts across the country. Both the SMAC and the board will continue to monitor events and medical opinions as time moves forward.”

Cary-Grove football coach Brad Seaburg took his family summer vacation this week with the regular summer schedule disrupted. He usually waits until just before football practice starts for vacation.

“We were going to start our camps on June 1,” Seaburg said. “Our version is pretty back-ended heavy with football so we can avoid as many conflicts with basketball as possible. This time of the year is usually weights and speed and agility work anyhow. It will be a matter of getting the groups of 10 established and giving them the proper spacing and factoring in supervision and coaches.

“The biggest thing is we are able to get together and we’ll be there in person with the kids. We’ve been away from the kids, they’ve been away from us for three months. Even if it’s a little taste, that would be beneficial for everybody.”

ADs and coaches had ideas what was coming, so they are somewhat prepared for a different kind of summer.

“I gave my coaches a heads-up that this is the direction we were probably going to be going in,” Price said. “So start preparing and figuring out which groups you’re going to do with your athletes. With no equipment, coaches have to be creative to what they can and cannot do.”

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