The state of Illinois issued new guidance to its Restore Illinois all-sports policy on Friday and it clarifies some of the confusion following the recent relaxation of COVID-19 mitigations.
The Illinois High School Association posted to its website on Friday afternoon that its board of directors will meet on Wednesday to determine when winter sports contests can begin and to set its schedule for the remainder of the school year.
Region 3 — an 18-county area of the state which includes Springfield — moved to Phase 4 on Monday while much of the state saw a loosening in the Illinois Department of Public Health’s mitigation guidelines, but confusion remained as to what that meant for sports. In the meantime, the IHSA said it would treat Tier 1 and the least strict Phase 4 as the same for what sports could and could not be played.
On Friday, the IDPH, after working with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity as well as the Illinois State Board of Education, released the clearest guidance to date for youth sports.
“I think it’s promising. I think it’s great for all athletes in the state of Illinois,” said Ken Leonard, the longtime football coach and athletic director at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School.
Within regions at Phase 4 or Tier 1 of the state’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, in-season lower-risk sports — which includes bowling, boys swimming and diving as well as cheerleading and dance — have no restrictions in the Level 4 category, access to a full postseason and can even play out-of-state teams.
Outdoor medium-risk sports, such as soccer (not in season), are also in Level 4 while indoor medium-risk and all higher-risk sports are set at Level 3, which allows for contests within a conference or region. High-risk sports — such as basketball, football and wrestling — are limited to Level 3 in Phase 4.
The only three regions in Illinois in Phase 4 are Regions 3, 5 (southern Illinois) and 6 (which includes Macon and Champaign counties). Almost the entirety of The State Journal-Register’s coverage area belongs in Region 3.
For regions in Tier 1, lower-risk sports are still in Level 4 while all medium-risk sports are in Level 3 but higher-risk sports move into Level 2, which allows for only intra-team scrimmages. As of Friday, three regions of the state were in Tier 1.
The other five regions of the state — which includes the Metro-East area in Region 4 — are in Tier 2. Lower-risk sports move to Level 3, medium-risk sports move to Level 2 while higher-risk sports are at Level 1, which includes no-contact practices and training only.
IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said all lower-risk winter sports teams need seven practice days before teams could hold a contest. Higher-risk sports teams will need 12 days of practice before contests can be held.
If a region was to move back to Tier 3, all indoor sporting activates would go back on pause while outdoor sports could maintain at Level 1.
The IHSA is scheduled to hold its board of directors meeting on Wednesday.
Leonard said Monday’s news was promising and he hoped it would foreshadow news like what came on Friday.
“I was sure hopeful. I was hopeful the whole time and I’ve tried to be upbeat,” Leonard said. “A lot of coaches have worked really hard to get his where it’s at today and I’m just thankful we’ve got kind of a light at the end of the tunnel here and are real close to getting back to letting kids on the fields and the courts to participate in high school sports.”
Contact Ryan Mahan: 857-246-9756, [email protected], twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.