IHSA releases full 2021 schedule, says basketball can start now and football on March 3Michael O’Brienon January 27, 2021 at 9:39 pm

Notre Dame’s Anthony Sayles (2) takes the ball to the basket against Curie.
Notre Dame’s Anthony Sayles (2) takes the ball to the basket against Curie. | Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The Illinois High School Association has revealed a new calendar for high school sports.

Basketball, football and all the other sports are coming back sooner than anyone expected.

The Illinois High School Association announced on Wednesday that basketball season will start immediately and run until March 13. Teams will need seven days of practice before they can play games and the schools must be in COVID-19 regions that have reached Phase 4.

Basketball won’t have any postseason.

Football teams can start practices on March 3 and games on March 19 with the season ending on April 24 and there will be no postseason. So that should mean about six games for each team.

Traditional spring sports including baseball, softball and track, which missed all of last season due to COVID-19, will get nearly full seasons starting on April 5.

Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced on Friday that regions in Illinois that reach Phase 4 of COVID-19 mitigations can play all sports. That included higher-risk sports such as basketball, football and wrestling. That set the IHSA’s board in motion to create new schedules.

Under the newly revised IDPH guidelines, regions that reach Phase 4 can hold conference and intra-region games in all sports. There was previously no COVID-19 Tier or Phase where the IDPH would allow higher-risk sports.

There isn’t a local region that is currently in Phase 4. That means no local teams can play games yet.

Region 1 (North Illinois), Region 2 (North Central Illinois) Region 3 (Southwest Illinois), Region 5 (Southern Illinois) and Region 6 (East Central Illinois) are all in Phase 4.

Chicago and all of the suburban regions are currently Tier 1, which is one step away from Phase 4. Region 4, which is the Metro East St. Louis area, is still in Tier 2.

Every local school district will make the decision whether or not to play a sport. It’s unknown if or when Chicago Public Schools will allow any sports.

Lower-risk sports are currently allowed, but CPS hasn’t started them. David Rosengard, the CPS sports director, said on Friday that he is “working closely with our public health officials to determine if we are able to offer these activities and will provide an update as soon as possible.”

The clock is already ticking for basketball season and CPS coaches are worried it may run out before they play any basketball.

“From what we have seen in the past CPS won’t get back to us for two weeks or a month,” Westinghouse basketball coach Rafie Fields said. “That leaves a week or two to play. It is sad to say but you might as well chock it up as a lost season.”

Fields and many area basketball coaches were hoping the IHSA would delay basketball until the spring.

“We would have been more likely to play in a month or two,” Fields said. “The safest thing is probably not to play. But it is sad for our seniors.”

There are other districts where things are very uncertain.

“We aren’t even allowed in the building or the gym right now,” Thornton basketball coach Tai Streets said. “I have no idea what the district might do. It is a tough situation.”

Hillcrest basketball coach Don Houston thinks his team will be allowed to play.

“We will probably end up playing a conference schedule and then some of the best teams in our region that we can,” Houston said. “I have a lot of seniors that are still in the recruiting process. They just need basketball to happen. Now or whenever.”

For regions to roll back to Phase 4, three things are required:

• Test positivity rate below 6.5% for three consecutive days (seven-day average).

• Staffed hospital and ICU beds availability greater than 20% for three consecutive days (three-day average).

• No sustained increase in COVID patients in hospital (seven-day average over seven of 10 days).

Here’s the full schedule released by the IHSA:

“We understood the high level of anticipation surrounding today’s announcement, along with the scrutiny that will accompany it,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said. “Ultimately, the Board adhered to its stated goals throughout the pandemic: providing an opportunity for every IHSA student-athlete to compete safely this year and maximizing opportunities for traditional IHSA spring sports after they lost their entire season a year ago. I recognize that many schools and coaches could likely offer a tweak here or there that would have, in their opinion, made it ‘better’ for their school or sport. Our Board faced an impossible task with a litany of factors. They were conscientious in considering every possibility and I believe their decisions today are a positive step for the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our students. We are excited to channel our energy into creating as many positive experiences for Illinois high school students as we can between now and the end of this extraordinary school year.”

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