Editor’s note: Unless action is taken, boys’ volleyball stands to lose a state tournament for the second consecutive year. Below is a letter from a reader and concerned parent, Jeff Lange of Hinsdale, to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director, Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH); Aaron Beswic, Senior Policy Advisor, IDPH; and Jess Ruiz, Illinois Lieutenant Governor, providing several reasons why the IDPH should amend its COVID-19 guidelines and allow the IHSA to conduct a boys volleyball state tournament in 2021. Illprepvb.com endorses the idea and encourages its readers to contact state government, health and IHSA officials expressing their support for a boys’ state volleyball tournament.
The letter follows a disclaimer of sorts by letter author Jeff Lange that encourages others to join the fight for a state tournament by circulating the letter among their friends and neighbors and reaching out to state officials in Springfield.
Hello friends –
See below. As IDPH guidelines currently stand, and based on several conversations I have had with IHSA and athletic directors, IHSA will not allow the Illinois boys’ volleyball state tournament to proceed beyond the Regional level. In my opinion – this is a disservice to our youth, and clearly not based on a thoughtful review of the unique nature of boys’ volleyball in Illinois, mitigation efforts already in place, or evidence from competitions taking place more extensively in other states. The key to any change is for IDPH to update their guidelines. The IHSA simply will not go outside the IDPH guidelines, nor will any school districts.
If you agree, I encourage you to copy and paste my email below, and send to the same people I sent it to (also include Oluwaseun.Oyeniran@illinois.gov and email@example.com in your emails … I received an auto-reply from Dr. Ezike’s email address suggesting these additional contacts). In addition, please take this request to social media using the themes below. I do not do social media so will leave that to any of you experts out there.
It is also worth noting that the upcoming “bridge phase” is not likely to create any changes in sports guidance … again, based on some digging I have done.
I believe there could be power in numbers, and hope that we can at least solicit a response that they are willing to look more deeply. Please also share this with anyone in your volleyball network that would also be willing to chime in via email or social media, and ask them to do the same!
Thank you, and let me know if you have any questions.
Here is Lange’s letter:
To: Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director, Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>; Aaron Beswic, Senior Policy Advisor, IDPH, firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>; Jess Ruiz, Illinois Lieutenant Governor, firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>
I am writing today to urge you to reconsider the Sports Safety Guidance issued on April 14, 2021. Current IDPH guidelines dictate that the boys IHSA volleyball season will end after Regional finals. I believe that boys’ volleyball should be moved to “Level 4” and be allowed to conduct a complete State Series this season, including Regional, Sectional and State Final competitions. Facts and evidence support the ability to complete a State Series safely and with minimal, if any, incremental risk compared to what is currently contemplated.
First and foremost, the geographic spread of boys’ volleyball teams across Illinois is limited, and unique. Across the entire state, boys’ volleyball teams include dozens in the greater Chicago area, eight near Rockford, and 10 in the St. Louis area. There are no teams in the Quad Cities, Peoria, Springfield, Bloomington or Decatur. This results in a relatively concentrated field once you get the Sectional Semifinal level. In fact, in the 2019 State Tournament – the last one contested since the boys’ volleyball season was cancelled in 2020 – of the 16 Sectional Semifinal games, only one involved high schools more than 30 miles apart. For the eight Sectional Finals games, again only one game involved teams 30+ miles apart. The bottom line is – with your current guidelines, the IHSA is being forced to stop the state tournament prematurely.
Boys’ volleyball is also being lumped in as an “indoor sport,” limiting the extent to which competitions can be held across the state. Presumably, this is due solely to an increased risk of on-court spread of COVID-19, since guidelines will allow “outdoor sports” teams to take on the additional risk of traveling, dining, and lodging and compete with teams from all over the state in the State Series. In other words, the only difference between a State Tournament for an outdoor sport vs. volleyball, is the “perceived” risk of spread during competition.
Evidence from surrounding states that have conducted high school sports much more extensively than Illinois has shown zero or extremely low risk of spread during competition – even for “high risk” and indoor sports. In addition, the recent volleyball club season (September-October 2020 and January-March 2021 for boys) was conducted with no evidence of a breakout due to on-court transmission, either among a team itself or across the net to another team. Finally, the precautions set in place by the IHSA and member schools to manage the risk of transmission during boys’ volleyball are extensive, and they work. Players wear masks at all times including competition, balls are frequently sanitized, games are conducted in large gyms with bleachers pulled back and limited attendance to maximize distancing, and teams do not switch sides or shake hands as they normally would.
In conclusion, it is evident that with a little more consideration, the IDPH could re-categorize boys’ volleyball to a “Level 4” sport and allow the IHSA to extend the boys volleyball season a little more, and arrange competition to extend through the State Series. This can be done with full precaution and safety measures in place, and not pose additional risk to participants, coaches, families and other Illinois residents. This is an easy action for IDPH to take, enabling the IHSA and high schools to provide these student athletes all the competitive opportunities they deserve, after all opportunities were taken from them during the 2020 season.
I appreciate your consideration and look forward to your response.