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High School ADs: Athletes, Coaches Excited To Play Again

Joe Deacon

With most of central Illinois now in Tier 1 of the Restore Illinois COVID-19 mitigation plan, the Illinois High School Association is getting back to competition. Practices resumed this week and two Peoria-area athletic directors say players and coaches are excited and eager to return to action.

“It's the first glimmer of hope that we've had in quite a while,” said Peoria High’s Brien Dunphy. “I think there was a lot of skepticism and worry that that this whole year was going to be a wash. So kids are glad to be back with their coaches.”

Under Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines, the IHSA will allow low-risk winter activities such as boys swimming, cheerleading and dance to return to competition. Basketball is considered a high-risk sport and can hold practices and scrimmages, but games are still on hold.

But a push is on to get the basketball seasons going. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, sent a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker, urging him to ease restrictions on youth and high school sports. On Friday, the Pritzker Administration announced regions in Phase 4 can resume all sports, including basketball; Tier 1 is one step away from Phase 4.  

Even with the status of basketball in flux, Dunphy said the ability for teams to get back on the courts and fields and in the pools is a bit of a relief. Similarly, Dunlap AD Katie Cazalet said learning of the IHSA’s decision was welcome news after a lengthy delay.

“It was pretty exciting to hear. All my coaches were ecstatic and texting and emailing and asking what it meant, and I didn't have any answers for them,” she said of the initial reaction. “But it was good news, and it seemed like it had been a long time coming.”

Dunphy and Cazalet said they are working on rebuilding schedules for the activities that are returning to competition. Cazalet noted the sports calendar will get pretty crowded next month when the fall sports that were moved to the spring start their preseason practices.

“Time, at this point, is not on our side,” she said. “We have soccer and volleyball and football slated to start on Feb. 15, and then with the summer seasons starting on, I believe it's April 19. So we have a lot of sports to fit in here.”

For Dunphy, logistical challenges such as those cannot overshadow the excitement of finally getting back to action.

“It's just been a great couple of days. There's a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “I think if you want people to appreciate things, if you take it away for a short time, when they get it back, they realize how wonderful it is and it can be.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.