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Coaches Relieved, Concerned About Switch To Spring

When the Illinois High School Association announced last week it is shifting football, girls volleyball and boys soccer to the spring, many coaches were thankful the seasons did not get canceled entirely.

“To just hear that we got to kind of stay alive for another potential opportunity to play the season for the kids and definitely for our seniors as well, it was just kind of instant relief at first,” said Morton volleyball coach Kristen Spangler, adding she’s received positive feedback from players and parents.

The change for high-risk sports during the COVID-19 pandemic adheres to new state guidelines and restrictions on youth and recreational athletics announced by Gov. JB Pritzker. While the IHSA will allow low-risk sports such as golf and tennis to compete in the fall, others will be limited to non-contact workouts and practices.

Dunlap football coach Brian Cazalet admits it will be strange not spending August preparing for the opening kickoff.

“While there is a little bit disappointment it won’t be the fall, that’s kind of a selfish feeling,” said Cazalet. “We’re definitely now excited for the kids and excited for them that they’re going to have a few weeks there, the spring to play football.”

But transitioning to spring presents a new set of challenges. Peoria Notre Dame soccer coach Mike Bare points out the pandemic may still be unresolved, and the weather may be less than ideal for outdoor activities.

“We have a natural grass field; I know a lot of other soccer teams in the area play on natural grass fields as well,” said Bare. “What are the fields going to look like? What’s going to be the availability of turf fields if we need them? Are we going to have to postpone some games?”

Both Spangler and Bare said the high school and club programs in their sports are trying to coordinate schedules to avoid conflicts so players won’t be forced to choose between them. But Spangler also noted the IHSA’s condensed calendar will reduce down time for the athletes.

“We’re not really sure with the shortened season what we’re looking at yet, with kids going straight from basketball ending Feb. 13 – I share a lot of the basketball girls – then we start the 15th. So, we also don’t want to overdo the kids,” said Spangler.

Additionally, fall sports that shift to the spring this academic year and then return to their normal schedule could end up having two seasons in a single calendar year. Spangler said she likely will reduce offseason activities next summer to give the kids a break.

“As much as coaches like to think that everybody eats and sleeps and drinks their sport, the kids – they need a break from us and they need a break from the sports,” added Cazalet, noting coaches are working together to figure out practice schedules that won’t force athletes to do too much in a short period of time.

“I don’t think football’s any more important than any other sport, and I think most other coaches feel the same way. They’re all equally important,” he said.

Still, Bare feels the positive of having a season outweighs the negative of adjusting to spring competition. He worried starting games in the fall could have resulted in abandoning a schedule already in progress.

“One of my biggest concerns was starting in the fall on time and potentially not finishing the season because of different complications with the virus,” he said. “I think moving it to the spring probably gives us the best chance to get some games in and potentially a state tournament series.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.