Illinois high school coaches have seen their summer sports seasons come to a standstill in the midst of on again, off again commands by the Illinois High School Association.
But yet as their teams stood relatively idle, or heavily limited by restrictions put upon them, they’ve watch summer travel teams prosper, playing over state lines, including Iowa, Missouri and Ohio.
It doesn’t seem fair to high school coaches. St. Bede baseball coach Bill Booker said frustration is the best way to put it.
“I understand with liability and schools, but to watch travel ball play, with high school coaches (in all sports) be so limited it’s frustrating and I’m concerned that we’re losing credibility with kids. It’s a money issue for sure with the travel,” Booker said.
“Don’t get me wrong our main focus as always is the safety of our student-athletes, but when multiple bordering states play, it’s not consistent. Even the IHSA has deferred their comments and actions to IDPH and the Governor’s Office.
“No one takes the lead because of potential liability. There are so many conflicting reports, especially on social media. This might also be a good question for school administrators. Seems like we take two steps forward and three back in prepping for not only sports but the school year in general.”
The baseball Bruins did manage to get in a doubleheader at Ottawa Thursday, games that were optional and signed off by their parents, the Bruins coach said. They split the doubleheader.
“We owed that to our seniors,” Booker said.
St. Bede girls basketball coach Tom McGunnigal is equally perplexed.
“It seems to go against most of the practical thinking and it honestly makes a head-scratcher situation that no governing presence is enacting control on playing sport,” he said. “We (high schools) are, basically, being told that we can’t conduct sports. But worse than that, I feel we are being told that we cannot control our athletes or our spaces or our equipment enough to have sports as high schools. Yet, those same-aged kids are traveling from Illinois with teams and playing sports in other states.”
McGunnigal is not sure if the pandemic is a local issue, a state issue or a national issue,
“The allowance for some organizations to play makes it seem like this is a personal issue. ‘Do you have a personal problem with playing sports during this time in our country? No, then go play … unless you are in a school situation, we are going to control you,’” he said.
“But then, if you have kids who have traveled turn around and infect some people back at your schools, now your school will have to take up the issue. So, again, are we trying to control a situation and get through to the other side or are we just turning blind eyes to certain areas. Where is the application of any logic when you look at the whole?”
The Lady Bruins got two open gyms in before being shut down. Regardless of what happens, McGunnigal said the Academy gym is now closed due to the annual summer resurfacing maintenance.
Rachel Starkey of Princeton has traveled to Iowa to watch her son Jimmy’s 14U Spring Valley Red Devils baseball team. She has no safety concerns, citing the extra precautionary measures taken by sponsor JP Sports.
She said dugouts were sanitized after each game and each team gets four balls per tournament so the ball is only handled by teammates. The handshake line has been lifted in favor of tipping and waiving hats in acknowledgment of the other team when the game is over. She said parents social distance by sitting in their bag chairs in the spot in the designated spots surrounding the diamond.
“We are grateful our son has had this opportunity to participate in a sport that he has loved his whole life. It has been great to see the smile return to my son’s face,” she said.
The Bureau County Blaze softball team played in four tournaments this summer, all in Iowa. Coach Joe Bates admitted he had mixed feelings.
“Just because we can does it mean we should,” he said.
Bates consulted a father of one of his players, who’s a medical doctor, and surveyed his team if they felt comfortable in playing.
“I told them, they’re not obligated. No one signed up for this. Across the board, everybody wanted to participate, so away we went,” Bates said.
Bates, who is the head softball coach at Princeton High School and had their season canceled, could see the argument against it.
“How can it be OK for us to go to Iowa to play softball, and not be OK to go to Bureau Valley to play softball,” he said.
Bates said safety guidelines were put in to place, most of which which were followed closely.
“Did we do everything we could have done? No, but did we everything that the guidelines said,” he said.
Bates is not aware of any report of anyone contracting COVID-19 as the result of playing or being at the softball games, but acknowledges that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t get sick down the road yet.
“How do you trace such things?” he said.
Signs are pointing toward on having fall sports canceled this year. Bates said he would have been more than willing to say goodbye to travel ball to get the high school stuff going.
“Being prepared for it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier,” Bates said. “It’s a lost opportunity. The years click by. That’s another season gone. It’s not easy to take.
“Who knows what’s next? Who knows about next spring? There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen.”
Bates ponders the impact of losing more school sports will have on travel.
“If we don’t have high school fall sports, what’s going to happen to travel? Is travel even going to get bigger? And that’s not even right,” he said.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at [email protected]