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Local schools react to IHSA, state plans for high school sports

'You’ve just got to roll with the punches'

The news was not nearly as bad as feared by those waiting for the highly-anticipated Illinois High School Association announcement about the fate of the upcoming fall sports season.

The IHSA announced Wednesday afternoon fall sports deemed as "high risk" — football, volleyball and boys soccer — will be postponed to next spring due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Sports deemed as "low risk" — golf, girls tennis and cross country — will remain as scheduled, beginning Aug. 10.

In turn, the shift of seasons will start a chain reaction. The fall sports season will run from Aug. 10 to Oct. 24. The winter sports season will start Nov. 16 and be shortened to end Feb. 13. The spring season, which will be held for the high risk sports from the fall, will run Feb. 16 to May 1. The IHSA has added a summer season, for the traditional spring sports, from May 3 to June 26.

The announcement was met with much approval from area school officials, coaches and athletes happy to salvage their seasons, albeit at a different time.

While it's going to be weird playing in the spring, Princeton football coach Ryan Pearson, "was happy everybody gets to play and the kids aren’t forced to pick between sports."

“You’ve just got to roll with the punches. I think we got the best of both worlds," Pearson said. "You know as kids, you only get so many opportunities, and if some of those are taken away, you feel terrible. My heart definitely aches for the spring sports season, and it’s now going to allow everyone to play their sports."

Bureau Valley football coach Mat Pistole is excited to get to take his Storm out for the season, regardless when it may fall, and tells Storm fans to bring "your winter coat to Turbine Field in March."

"It certainly gives us an opportunity and better shot at getting a full(ish) season in for our kids that deserve it," Pistole said. "I was concerned that if we were to delay the season, that we would run the risk of losing our season completely, so kudos to IHSA for thinking outside the box and coming up with a plan to play all sports.

"The last seven weeks back with the kids has been fantastic, and we look forward to continue to prepare for our 2021 spring season."

St. Bede football coach Jim Eustice was happy to see the Bruins' season not canceled, advocating for the idea of more regional scheduling.

Tom Keegan, cross country and baseball coach at Hall, believed the IHSA was thoughtful in making its plan.

"All things considered, according to this plan and if you’re a high school athlete, the powers that be have provided options to compete and at this point, that is all we can ask and hope for," he said.

"At least with cross country operating in its traditional season there will be a little slice of normalcy. Maybe this will increase our numbers too, because of the delay in other sports."

On the volleyball side, Princeton coach Andy Puck said, "I am happy to see all sports getting the opportunity to participate. I feel the schedule looks great. There is nothing more important than health and family."

Hall coach Mason Kimberley, a former PHS golfer, said it was a relief to see golf remain in the fall as scheduled.

"As someone who played collegiate golf in the spring, having a golf season during April and May with the unpredictable weather we always have around here can be a headache," he said. "In regards to COVID-19, I am extremely optimistic that we can have a safe and enjoyable season."

Keegan said there will be pros and cons for baseball when its new season rolls around, but at least the weather will be good, unlike the start of the normal spring season.

"I’m curious as to how the state series will play out and how the IHSA and travel ball will coexist," he said.

Mendota Superintendent Jeff Prusator, a quarterback in his day at Tiskilwa, said the IHSA did a good job in the best interest of the kids.

"I believe it is a solid plan. What is important is that every student-athlete is afforded the opportunity to experience their sport of interest," he said. "For many of us, our high school athletic experiences are some of our fondest high school memories. Lifelong memories and friendships are created through high school athletics, and so many life lessons are taught and learned by young adults.

"I am pleased that the IHSA took a comprehensive approach to ensure that all athletic programs are given an opportunity to compete this school year."

Shawn Collins just took over as athletic director at Earlville High School, and being such a whole new experience, he really doesn't have anything to compare this to.

"There was so much speculation of the decisions coming forth for the IHSA, but we were just waiting to see what the final decisions would ultimately be. I had a hunch that everything would be pushed back to Jan. 1," he said. "I appreciate the IHSA's forward thinking and their hopeful optimism.

"I think it will be a challenge as far as the two games per week and no tournaments. I'm guessing we will be relying heavily on our fellow Little Ten Conference members for games and such. Games within our conference will probably take up most of our schedules."

Athletic director Jeff Ohlson of Princeton said he will digest all the information and see how it will affect PHS.

"At that point we will develop a plan how we will proceed with the guidelines for our kids to participate in the different programs," he said.

Brian Hoxsey of Shaw Media contributed to this article.

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