The Illinois Department of Public Health announced that all high school sports are now allowed to play in regions that are in Phase 4 of the State's reopening plan. Regions 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 now meet the criteria for looser restrictions.
Region 2 includes McDonough, Knox, Warren, Fulton, and Henderson counties.
Most winter “lower-risk” sports like gymnastics, swimming and badminton are already practicing. The Illinois High School Sports Association is meeting on Wednesday to decide when they can begin competitions and when the only “higher-risk” winter sport, basketball, can start.
Matt Troha is with the IHSA. He said they pointed to a lack of positive cases during fall sports when making their case.
“I’ve got to think that they're paying attention to what's happened in the states around us and some of those states with high school sports, and we constantly send them [IDPH] updated data on that,” he said.
Higher-risk sports in Phase 4 are allowed to play in-conference and intra-region games. Lower-risk sports can play out-of-state tournaments and a state series.
Athletes have to wear masks during the competition in sports where social distancing isn’t possible. There won’t be unnecessary touching like high-fives between free throws or what is described as “‘go-team’ hand raises.”
Spectator attendance will be capped depending on the mitigation efforts in place. IDPH guidance asks participants and spectators not to sing, chant or shout in their cheers. It also recommends taking athlete’s temperatures before the game if practical.
Troha says COVID numbers are worse now than when the state canceled some sports, including football, late last summer. So, it’s essential schools don't relax safety measures.
“We need to remain diligent with wearing masks and socially distancing. Just because sports have started doesn't mean that anything is over,” he said. “The folks at IDPH have been very clear with us that if the numbers backslide then sports could certainly go away again.”
Students across the state rallied in the fall asking the state to reinstate sports. Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike mentioned in the announcement how many calls and emails she’d received from students, parents and coaches asking them to reconsider their stance.