Wednesday announcements from the Illinois High School Association and Marion County in Indiana regarding their 2020-21 seasons have left Wabash Valley athletic directors and coaches scrambling to adjust their schedules.
The IHSA Board of Directors conducted a special meeting and announced its intended plan for the upcoming school year. The plan has been sent to the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) for final approval.
"This plan, like nearly every aspect of our current lives, remains fluid," IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in a news release. "Changes may come, and if they do, we will be agile while putting safety and students first. It was important that we provide a framework today for our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and officials to begin preparing for the 2020-21 school year."
The COVID-19 pandemic led the IHSA board to propose unprecedented scheduling changes, including playing all sports over truncated fall, winter, spring and summer seasons. As a result, several team sports will shift to new seasons. For example, football, boys soccer and girls volleyball will move from the fall to spring.
Meanwhile, boys and girls golf, girls tennis, cross country and girls swimming and diving will remain fall sports and can proceed to start Aug. 10 as scheduled.
Per Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's announcement Wednesday, fall sports will begin with competition limited to conference opponents and other schools in the same general geographical area. Schools will be provided more details in the coming week about the scheduling limits and scheduling will continue to be assessed throughout each season.
The condensed 2020-21 IHSA season dates will be as follows:
• Fall: Aug. 10 to Oct. 24.
• Winter: Nov. 16 to Feb. 13.
• Spring: Feb. 15 to May 1.
• Summer: May 3 to June 26.
"The Board believes this plan offers the most realistic chance for student-athletes to participate in interscholastic sports while balancing the challenges of a new academic setting and IDPH Guidelines," Erie High School principal and IHSA Board president Tim McConnell assessed in the release.
"We are an education-based athletic association and school has to come first. By delaying the majority of the team sports in the fall, it will allow our schools and students the chance to acclimate to what will be, for many, a totally new educational experience. We will do our best to try to give every student-athlete the opportunity for a season this school year."
State series tournament decisions will be made on a sport-by-sport basis as each season progresses, but providing postseason opportunities remain a priority of the board. This could potentially include culminating state series tournaments after regional or sectional rounds or seeking other non-traditional means to conduct events, the IHSA release said.
"I am just happy to have a plan in place and that all of our student-athletes are going to get the opportunity to participate," Paris athletic director Creighton Tarr told the Tribune-Star. "Things are going to be different, but we are going to make the best of it. If you're a football or volleyball player and you don't play until March, you have seven months to continue to work and get better.
"It's all about how you respond to this and I know our coaches and athletes will be ready."
Tarr admitted the Tigers' schedules will need to be altered because of the new restrictions.
"There is a chance we could rely heavily on our Little Illini Conference opponents to fill our schedules," he explained. "There is still a lot of unanswered questions in regard to schedules, but we hope to get things in line in the near future. We may not be playing the same amount of games or in any tournaments or invitationals like normal, but at least it's better then being canceled. At this point and what all of our athletes and coaches have been through since March, we are just going to look at this as the glass being half full."
Meanwhile, Marshall AD Kevin Keown offered his views on the unique situation.
"Obviously it is going to be a challenge," he said. "LIC ADs are working to set up conference schedules first and then we will do what we can filling in any open spots. It isn't ideal by any means, but I do feel that this might be the best possible scenario for our students to still get seasons in.
"It will be strange playing football and volleyball in March and April, but if it gets our kids the opportunity to compete, then I am all for it. The goal right now is for our students to return to school and if postponing some seasons is how this will work, then that is what we need to do."
In Indiana, the IHSAA tweeted early Wednesday: "High school fall sports are on track to proceed as planned! Girls golf practice begins this Friday [July 31] with other sports starting on Monday [Aug. 3]! Have fun and good luck to all participants!"
But in Marion County, the possibilities don't look so rosy and that could affect Terre Haute South and North and other area schools if other counties follow suit.
According to tweets from Indianapolis Star sports reporter Kyle Neddenriep on Wednesday afternoon: "Hearing from multiple sources that Marion County decision on sports could change after video conference with school superintendents this afternoon. So, the decision to cancel contact sports in Marion County not finalized."
And the "Speedway Athletics" Twitter account, representing Speedway High School, provided this tidbit Wednesday evening: "The Marion County Health Department is still in the process of reviewing the status [of] High School and Middle School sports. No determination has been made in terms of canceling or postponing at this time."
Still, athletic directors Ed Jarvis of Terre Haute South and Kris Painter of Terre Haute North are preparing for the possibility of Marion County schools no longer being able to compete in contact sports in 2020-21. Both schools are members of Conference Indiana.
"As if this year wasn’t crazy enough...," Jarvis said. "We are excited to get back to school and athletics safely. We are putting protocols and plans that have taken time to develop, but now we also have to worry about filling some holes in football and soccer [Marion County] and volleyball [Illinois].
"I hope for the kids and coaches, we can quickly come up with a plan and not leave any of them hanging. When I saw the news, we reached out to opponents in all of those sports who could be affected. If things stand the way they are, Southport will miss soccer, get a week of volleyball, and maybe two weeks of football. As a conference, we’ll have to decide what to do about that situation too. Today was interesting to say the least."
"This will definitely put some holes in a lot of our schedules as we compete against a lot of those schools," Painter mentioned. "The biggest impact will be in our conference as Southport is in Marion County. I think this year is going to look a lot different than most, so we will need to be flexible and make adjustments as needed to make it the best year possible for our student-athletes."
Terre Haute North has four Marion County opponents — Indianapolis Tech, Southport, Indianapolis Chatard and Indianapolis Brebeuf — on its football schedule. South plays Southport and Brebeuf.