Central anticipates return of sports

But the devil is in the details as programs negotiate coronavirus safety measures

The Illinois High School Association announced its Phase 4 Return to Play Plan last week as Hinsdale Central and other schools look to restore their athletic programs amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines, which were given a stamp of approval by the Illinois Department of Public Health, allow gatherings of up to 50 individuals indoors or outdoors, with multiple groups allowed outdoors provided they are separated by a distance of at least 30 feet. Athletes must be screened with temperature checks before every workout, and coaches and volunteers must wear masks (see sidebar for details).

Hinsdale Central athletic director Dan Jones said the plan provides guidance on holding summer camps and practices for fall sports programs, On Monday, he and Hinsdale South athletic director Art Ostrow submitted their plans to district leadership and are awaiting approval.

"Then we'd open up registration and practice schedules," he explained.

Uncertainty still swirls around fall competitions, Jones said, as the IHSA and individual conferences navigate the changing landscape.

"Safety remains at the forefront of everything that the IHSA is doing as we move into Phase 4 and beyond," said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson in a statement upon release of the Phase 4 guidelines. "Our focus now shifts to continuing to work with state leadership to determine how to provide the safest environment possible for fall sports."

Jones said he and his counterparts in the West Suburban Silver Conference have been working to craft plans for the possibility of returning to competition. He does not foresee allowing spectators, although they are permitted under the IHSA plan.

"We're looking to either live stream or film events and post them so family and friends can see those competitions," he said.

Figuring out capacity limits and spacing for camps will help officials prepare for the school year, Jones noted.

"We're going through all of our facilities and all of our fall sports to come up with a plan to get as many athletes participating and playing under the state parameters and doing it safely," he said.

Jones said he's been communicating with coaches to give potential scenarios about how practices might be run. For football, for example, the IHSA guidelines don't specifically advise against physical contact during but do discourage high fives.

Central varsity football head coach Brian Griffin said he expects there to be either no contact or limited contact once practices can begin.

"So you're going to have to reframe how you teach things," he said, alluding to recent measures promoting head safety that already has altered behavior. "We've gotten better at making it safe."

Griffin said normally the team would have had two weeks of camp in June and another two in July. He and his coaching staff regularly send players suggested workouts.

"We're trying to keep everyone engaged," he said.

Central girls varsity cross country coach Mark McCabe said he had to cancel the squad's annual Lake Geneva overnight trip for training and team-building.

"We're deciding on other ways to replace that experience with things that we can do locally," McCabe said.

Running has the advantage, he remarked, of being a sport that lends itself to self-training.

"I've been giving workouts to the girls, and the leaders have been administering them, organizing meetings in groups," McCabe said, noting that social distancing guidelines are being observed.

Seeing girls carrying that responsibility of leadership "might be one of the ways where you turn a potential negative into a positive," he remarked.

Not having access to school training equipment has required an adjustment, McCabe said. The fall season will not be business as usual, either, but he said they're preparing as if it will be.

"We're going to come into the season with the attitude that we always do, and then we'll roll with the punches," he said.

Jones said figuring out how to keep athletic areas sanitized in "the fastest and most efficient way" is also a major component, adding that the DuPage County Health Department also will need to sign off on the school's reopening plan. Getting kids back in the school is key, he stressed.

"If we have no in-person school, than I don't anticipate us having in-person sports," Jones said.

Griffin believes his student-athletes will be ready, whatever the case.

"I think the kids will be focused when we do get back together," he said. "We just don't know when that will be yet."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean