Reworking high school seasons the safe approach

Less than 24 hours after the Illinois High School Association had released its plans for high school sports during the 2020-21 school year, people already were complaining.

The plan certainly is not ideal. Instead of a school year with three seasons that last a dozen weeks or so, the IHSA is proposing a year with four shorter seasons. Non-contact fall sports like golf, tennis, cross country and swimming will be played this fall. Other sports that typically open the school year — football, boys soccer and girls volleyball — will play during the new spring season, which starts Feb. 15.

Yes, football in February. Fans can enjoy Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7 (if it actually takes place) and a week later be out cheering on their favorite high school team.

It would be easy to try to pick out winners and losers in the proposed schedule. One athletic director did just that last week, talking to the Chicago Tribune. He believes baseball and softball teams should take the field this fall instead of having to play during the new summer season, which lasts until the end of June.

Of course playing this fall is a better option if — and only if — the fall season isn’t canceled. Gov. JB Pritzker warned last week that Illinois could go back to an earlier phase if COVID-19 positivity rates keep increasing, or certain activities could be restricted if a region reaches an 8 percent positivity rate.

As the state opened up more, its seven-day positivity rate increased from 2.7 percent to 3.8 percent in less than a month. Some parts of the state have positivity rates approaching 8 percent.

The truth is we don’t know what will happen this month, much less what will happen in the spring and summer of 2021. And if you want to talk about things being unfair, well, just find a recent high school grad who missed their entire senior season.

Remember all the #inthistogether posts when this crisis was in its early stages? At times it feels like we’ve shifted our collective consciousness to #whostoblame.

The novel coronavirus is to blame. Not IHSA board members or the Illinois Department of Public Health or the governor. (Or the school board, for that matter, but we covered that topic last week.)

Everyone is doing the best they can, knowing not everyone will be happy. In the long run, do we want to look back and say we did too much or too little to protect the student-athletes?

These are unprecedented times requiring unappealing responses. One commentator pegged the experience accurately — “All vegetables, no dessert.”

The best things adults can do is help young people appreciate available opportunities and also equip them to recognize and release their grief when opportunities are taken away. This is how we learn resilience.

Coaches and players we’ve interviewed over the years venerate the life lessons teens learn playing high school sports. This lesson is a tough one, no doubt. But it’s one student-athletes need to learn.