Winter sports come to a swift end after IHSA ban

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, teams will not be able to practice or compete until at least January

After meeting on Dec. 1, Illinois High School Association has extended the shutdown of winter sports until at least January,  according to their website. Basketball, bowling, boys’ swimming, and fencing are among the sports affected.

On Nov. 19, based on Pritzker’s re-implementation of COVID-19 restrictions due to rising cases, the IHSA paused the winter 2020 sports season, effective the next day, with the possibility of starting up in December. Now the  indefinite postponement has many athletes fearing they may miss out on their seasons.

Some sports, like boys bowling, were able to hold tryouts before the shutdown without any issues, according to senior Sam Wolf.

“The way we hosted tryouts this year wasn’t too different from previous years. We had two guys per lane (four per pair) keeping safe distance and wearing masks of course. The format of the tryouts were normal, each day we warm up for 20 minutes then play three games,” said Wolf.

If there’s one thing this I’ve learned about this pandemic, it’s to not even try to make predictions.  We’re taking it as it comes, and taking advantage of opportunities wherever we find them”

— Jackie Gnant

Other sports, like fencing, didn’t get the same opportunities. 

“There was literally one day of tryouts before everything got shut down,” said junior Lucia Kustra, an epee, who didn’t get a chance to attend the tryout.

The IHSA will revisit their decision once more on Dec. 14, deciding whether to green-light the winter season or keep it shut down.

Girls bowling coach Jackie Gnant says she doesn’t know if the bowling team will get a season this winter.

“If there’s one thing this I’ve learned about this pandemic, it’s to not even try to make predictions.  We’re taking it as it comes, and taking advantage of opportunities wherever we find them,” said Gnant.

Senior basketball player Liv Becker doesn’t think that the season will happen this winter, but is hopeful that it might get pushed back.

“I don’t think we will end up having a season, but I feel like if we do then it will be during the summer,” said Becker.

Wolf is more optimistic about having a season, since bowling is classified as a low-risk sport.

“I’m very optimistic about our season being able to safely take place. The biggest question for me is when we’ll be able to compete. We’re also in a unique situation since we’re dependent on when bowling alleys might open up again,” said Wolf.

Even though they might not be able to have a season, athletes are still finding ways to connect with their teams and have some semblance of a season.

Senior Sam Brown, a member of the senior leadership council for the swim team, says that they’re trying to come up with activities to do- which is complicated by COVID-19 restrictions.

“The coaches set up an inter-high school crossfit challenge where all the teams in our conference are competing. However, we really can’t create as much of a team on Zoom. You really need to talk to people to get to know them,” said Brown.

The important part is staying connected with the team. Athletes are trying to stay in contact with their teammates online since they can’t see them in-person.

“I still communicate with members of my team and try to stay connected virtually. There were some conditioning classes over the summer, but I didn’t go because of COVID-19,” said Kustra.

There is a lot for athletes to miss about their sports. Brown says missing his senior season is especially hard for him.

“It really sucks because every year you look forward to senior year. You have a different mindset- you’re more of a leader on the team, and that opportunity is gone,” said Brown.

Becker was hoping to have a competitive and rewarding season this winter.

“I was looking forward to winning regionals and going far because I think the team this year had a lot of potential. I was also excited for senior night,” said Becker.

For boys bowling, COVID-19 has discouraged some bowlers from returning over concerns about the virus.

“Unfortunately, we saw a lot of returning players drop out in preseason and our overall turnout was lower than we had hoped. A big focus of the program each year is to recruit a strong freshman class. We recruited a handful of solid newcomers and we’re excited about their potential,” said Wolf.

If there were to somehow be competitions in January or later, they would have to be modified.

“I would expect to at least be able to roll some matches against other teams in our conference, and maybe some smaller tournaments.  The larger state series tournaments – like regionals, sectionals, and state – could theoretically still happen with a lot of advanced planning and limitations to the numbers of spectators, but I think that’s less likely,” said Gnant.

While made in the interest of public safety, the IHSA’s decision is difficult and feels disappointing for hopeful athletes.

“Honestly, it’s very upsetting. This was the year I could play without worrying about anything and have fun with the game. I was also looking forward to playing with this team,” said Becker.