IHSA approves one-time exemption for high school and club volleyball participation

Boys and girls volleyball players will be able to participate in high school and club volleyball at the same time during the 2020-21 this school year following a ruling by the IHSA Board of Directors on Monday. (Photo by Dave Ruggles)

A month after tabling a decision on whether to allow students to participate in club and travel sports while simultaneously competing for their high school teams during the spring and summer seasons, the IHSA Board of Directors gave the go-ahead Monday.

IHSA By-law 3.100, which governs independent team participation, prevents participation on a school and non-school team at the same time in the same sport. The exemption approved by the board on  Monday will be applicable for the 2020-21 school year only.

Sports competing during the IHSA’s 2021 spring season (football, boys soccer, girls volleyball) will be granted the accommodation to participate simultaneously on school teams and non-school teams throughout the duration of their high school season (February 15-May 1).

Sports competing during the IHSA’s 2021 summer season (baseball, softball, track & field, girls soccer, boys volleyball, lacrosse, boys tennis) will be granted the accommodation to participate simultaneously on school teams and non-school teams beginning on June 4.

The summer season is slated to run from April 19 to June 26. 

“The Board determined it was prudent to make modifications to the independent team by-law for the sports that were displaced from their traditional high school season,” IHSA executive director Craig  Anderson said.

“The Board is hopeful that the high school teams will be given priority when conflicts occur. We believe making a modification now will allow high school coaches and non-school team coaches to begin communication on how they can collaboratively resolve scheduling conflicts.”

Now, all high schools and clubs have to do is come to some sort of accommodation to make it work for all involved.

“This is great news for our athletes, but the question is: will clubs work with high schools to coordinate a fair schedule so the girls and guys don’t get burned out?” said Lockport boys’ and girls’ coach Nick Mraz.

“There’s no chance either organization can run their normal schedule, so both sides have to be understanding and give a little. There are lots of moving parts, but I believe there is a compromise that will be best for all parties involved … most importantly, the kids.”

The IHSA’s decision relieves many student-athletes from having to choose between playing for their high schools and competing in national exposure tournaments with their clubs.

“Having to choose between club or high school would have been a tough decision for many athletes,” said Adversity’s girls director Melissa Masterson. “The athletes who choose to participate in both will be juggling a lot, but not having to completely miss their high school season and/or major travel tournaments of club season will make it worth it.”

“I think this relieves so much stress,” said Michio Chicago club director Diane Mikulsis. “The kids were talking about it quite a bit in the last couple of weeks. My concern was the fact that they would be missing the big college exposure tournaments. This (exemption) gives them the ability to play in them.”

The biggest concern for high school coaches will be how student-athletes balance their commitments to their high school teams and club teams.

“How will students navigate dual seasons?’ said Sandburg boys and girls volleyball coach David Vales. “Practices, matches, tournaments? It’s going to be tough to schedule matches as it is, let alone now working around our players’ club schedules.

“This absolutely helps players with recruitment, but it will make high school playing time interesting when you have non-club players at every practice and club players missing periodically,” said Vales, adding with the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in Illinois, “I guess it’s all worth it if we get to play at all.” 

One club director who is not concerned how his players will balance their commitments to their high school teams and clubs is Illini Elite Volleyball Club director Andy Erins. He plans to severely limit his Bloomington club’s activities during the high school season.

“Before this decision, we were planning to allow our players to enjoy their high school seasons,” Erins said. “We did not have plans to run practices or go to events during the high school season. 

“Now that it is allowed, we may try and practice on some Sundays or something light like that just to keep tabs on our players. But we have never had plans to do anything that would conflict with the high school season or force players to decide one way or another.“

Erins is hopeful that other clubs in Illinois take a similar approach during the high school season.

“I sincerely hope that clubs are sensible, smart and respectful when it comes to the players and their high school seasons,” he said. “Just because the IHSA allows it doesn’t mean that everyone should be out there doing both at the same time.

“The spirit of the rule change is so high school players don’t quit school teams to play club. Unfortunately, I think there will be some clubs that don’t change a thing and continue to practice multiple times a week while the players are also practicing with their high school teams.”

At the very least, student-athletes who would have opted to play for their high schools had they been forced to make a choice will now be able to participate in some of the large national club tournaments attended by many college coaches and recruiters.

“For many of the athletes who missed incredible recruiting opportunities last season, it is necessary for them to play club this season,” said Adversity boys director Keith Kujawa. “Girls missed national qualifiers and championships. Boys missed their high school seasons and the national championships. It hurt everyone.

“Informally, we polled our boys and girls and a strong majority said that they would have stayed with us if they had to choose,” he added. “Now, both can attend tournaments that are crucial for their development and recruiting opportunities, which is exactly why these kids play club to begin with.”

The biggest concern for both sides will be their athletes’ health and well-being. Most volleyball injuries are the result of overuse and overtraining.

“I think it’s important that we don’t overextend the kids as this could lead to injury,” Mikulskis said. “If the two parties work together, I believe that we could make this work. It will just take a little communication and collaboration.”

“Coaches of both club and high school can all work together to monitor training of each athlete to help keep them healthy as possible,” Masterson said, adding, “I appreciate the IHSA recognizing that times are hard and making a choice that favors the best interest of the student-athletes.”

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