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IHSA plan gives everybody a shot at athletics this year

Northwest Herald

Thursday, July 30, 2020  |  Article  |  By Shaw Editorial Board

Education--Elementary and Secondary (36) , Governor (44) , Health (49)

Sports are the reward for how well you mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

In New Zealand, thanks to a strong national plan and early, significant ramp ups in testing, mask wearing and contact tracing, the country has all but eradicated the novel coronavirus. Its sports stadiums are full of fans.

South Korea, which confirmed its first virus case on the same day as the U.S., welcomed back fans at 10% capacity to its baseball leagues this weekend.

In Europe, major soccer leagues have played for a month with minimal disruption, although without fans.

In the United States, major professional sports leagues that essentially locked their athletes in a bubble have seen early success in playing actual games without an outbreak. Major League Baseball, which did not have a bubble, lost games to the pandemic in less than a week.

The bubble is not possible for high school sports, which brings us to Wednesday's decision by the IHSA to shuffle its calendar. In conjunction with Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Health's new tiered system for what sports are safer than others, the IHSA announced that football, girls volleyball and boys soccer will now move to the spring.

Remaining fall sports will compete from Aug. 10 to Oct. 24, winter sports - of which we are dubious will start on time, are scheduled to run from Nov. 16 to Feb. 13. Some traditional spring sports will be moved to a new summer period.

First, we need to say that the IDPH and Gov. Pritzker's office did not make public what will cause a sport to move up or down a tier from being able to compete, to limited to non-contact practice only. Those metrics must be made public, and made public now. The absence of transparency only invites disinformation, conspiracy theories and further anxiety by keeping the public in the dark on what will trigger a change.

The governor's office and IDPH, who have otherwise handled this pandemic admirably, should be embarrassed that this was not a part of the public rollout on day one and reconsider making this metric public soon.

Given the complexities of a large, diverse state that is handling the pandemic at varied levels right now, we must say the IHSA appears to have gotten this one right. Things will change as the pandemic continues to evolve, and there still remains the possibility that this whole thing will get shut down, but given the information available, this plan gives a fighting chance for safer sports like golf and tennis to complete a modified season, and gives time for therapeutics, or fingers crossed, a vaccine, to come on the market in time for the spring or summer seasons.

It's a good plan to give everybody a shot at athletics this year, an admirable goal.

The even better news is we have some control over this situation. Continue to follow the easy-to-do guidance: wear a face mask, maintain social distance whenever you can, don't attend large gatherings or parties.

These are all things we can control. The rewards for that positive, empathetic behavior are the things we really miss, including sports.