High school athletes say they feel safe to participate in fall sportson July 30, 2020 at 12:59 am

Incoming Lane senior Sophia Rivera felt anxious as she awaited the Illinois High School Association’s decision for fall sports.

Rivera, a 2019 city champ for cross country, had already missed out on key opportunities for college recruiting. First, her cross country season took an almost three-week hiatus due to the Chicago Teachers Union strike last fall. Then, her spring track season was canceled.

Likewise, Lane runner Declan Toomey was frustrated with last season’s adversities, which also limited his opportunities to impress college recruiters with elite racing times.

“We were hopeful to go to state that year, so it really sucked when all of that happened,” said Toomey, one of Lane Tech’s strongest runners. “We had a really good team, and I just felt really bad for the seniors. I mean, that was it.”

So when they learned Tuesday afternoon that cross country got the green light to race this fall, the two were over the moon.

“I was pretty anxious [this morning],” Rivera said. “Of course, I want to run, but I also care a lot about the rest of the team. I don’t want people to get sick or anything, but it is good to know that we have something to look forward to.”

“They did what they had to do,” Toomey said. “It’s important to keep everybody safe, but at the same time, I know they want to get kids out to run, especially for me — it’s going to be my last season so I’m excited that they’ve found some way to get us out and run.”

Rivera and Toomey are just two of several thousand students who plan to participate in IHSA-regulated fall sports, which are scheduled to begin Aug. 10.

Though football, girls volleyball and boys soccer were moved to spring, the IHSA is going forward with other fall sports, including girls swimming, girls diving and tennis, boys and girls cross country and boys and girls golf, which were deemed low to medium risk by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

That was good news for the Joliet girls golf team.

“I was quite pleased because it at least gives us an opportunity to get the season going,” Joliet girls golf coach Jim Grzetich said. “We have been practicing social distancing since camp was allowed [earlier this month] … and we haven’t had any issues at this point, so overall, pretty happy.”

For incoming Joliet senior Morgan Anderson, getting to play golf gives her a sense of normalcy amid the chaos of the pandemic.

“I feel like golf is the one thing that has been normal during the summer, at least for me,” said Anderson, who is 17. “And so having it back for the school year, especially with it being my last year in high school, I feel like it’s going to make it better that at least I get golf back if I don’t get to go back to school every day. So getting to golf will probably make my senior year.”

Morgan Anderson said she feels safe playing golf this fall.

There are still a lot of logistics that the IHSA and schools will have to figure out in the next month. How will athletes be transported to events? How will meets and tournaments look different? What safety procedures will be put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus?

Another one: Who will make the team?

Because of COVID-19, it’s likely that some sports, like cross country, will have smaller rosters.

That’s worrisome to Lane Tech’s cross country and track coach Kris Roof, who believes running should be an “inclusive” sport and making the team shouldn’t be based on athletic abilities.

“We regularly have close to 300 people on our teams between boys and girls, so this is kind of troubling to me because we are a no-cut sport,” he said. “I really don’t want to be put in a position where I have to cut athletes. … It’s just kind of unnerving.”

Though COVID-19 cases continue to rise statewide, most athletes who discussed IHSA’s announcement with the Chicago Sun-Times expressed little to no hesitation about the upcoming season. They said they trust their schools will prioritize their health above all else.

“[IHSA] definitely made the right decision,” Anderson said. “I feel like if all the girls and the team and coaches are smart and we all take the proper precaution that it should go pretty smoothly this year.”

“In speaking to my coach with what he plans to do specifically for us, I think we’re taking the proper precautions,” Rivera said. “But obviously you can never be too safe with this virus, but I feel pretty safe.”

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