By John O’Connor, AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The governing body for high school athletics in Illinois decided Wednesday to push football and other fall sports to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Illinois High School Association’s decision to move football, boys soccer and volleyball to a February-to-May season came hours after Gov. J.B. Pritzker barred interscholastic play for contact or intense sports such as football, wrestling and competitive cheering and dance because of the ease with which the coronavirus can spread.
Cross country and golf for both boys and girls, and girls tennis and swimming will continue in their traditional fall slots.
Pritzker released a list of more than three dozen sports, from boxing to bass fishing, which are ranked in terms of their risk for transmitting the highly contagious and potentially fatal virus, and accompanied by appropriate levels of participation.
Summer youth sports, even with restrictions, proved costly. Dozens of students contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, after attending a sports camp at Lake Zurich High School, and a teen softball team in Knox County suffered an outbreak.
“This virus is unrelenting, and it spreads so easily that no amount of restrictions seems to keep it off the playing field …,” Pritzker said. “The toughest choice is also the safest choice.”
The rules take effect Aug. 15 and also apply to adult recreational leagues, travel clubs, park district and similar programs, but not to college or professional sports.
As it stands, schedules for wintertime sports like wrestling, bowling and gymnastics will not change, according to the IHSA. The displaced fall sports will follow in the spring, and the traditional spring sports baseball, track and field, girls soccer, boys tennis and others will have “summer” seasons in May and June.
The plan “remains fluid,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said.
“Changes may come, and if they do, we will be agile while putting safety and students first,” Anderson said.
Under Pritzker’s rules, only athletes and teams in lower-risk sports may engage in interscholastic competition. Medium-risk contests may include team scrimmages with minors’ parental consent. Elementary school sports schedules have been canceled.
Wednesday’s was another of several appearances recently by Pritzker to publicize a troublesome coronavirus resurgence. He urged residents to pressure local officials to get tougher in areas where there’s a spike.
“If they don’t, they could send the entire region back to closed bars and closed restaurants, stricter limits on gatherings, or even another stay-at-home order,” Pritzker said.
With 1,393 new cases confirmed Wednesday, Illinois has now reported 175,124 infections, which in most cases ended in recovery. There were 18 deaths Wednesday, with a total of 7,462 deaths connected to complications with the virus.
Pritzker significantly loosened social restrictions in late June because of declining numbers. The 4,233 infections reported the week of June 14 was the lowest since the virus exploded in late March. Since mid-June, however, weekly numbers have steadily climbed again, to 9,273 last week and are on a pace this week to equal that number.
Deaths have been dramatically lower, however. In June, there were 22,926 new cases and 1,566 deaths. Infections have jumped to 31,939 in July, but deaths have dropped to 548. The state public health department noted that new infections have been found in younger people, particularly those 18-29, who typically are healthier overall and able to fight the virus off.
Altered IHSA sports schedule for 2020-21: https://bit.ly/2X9Mf6j
Guidelines for high schools sports: https://bit.ly/335QaVB
Illinois COVID-19 cases by week: https://bit.ly/30Y4qNn
Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak