Some Illinois high schools plan to reopen as usual this fall. Others plan to use a “hybrid” approach format, combining in-person and e-learning. Then there are those high schools that will rely entirely on e-learning for the first semester.
But whatever their differences are and whichever learning format they employ, they all have one thing in common – they won’t be playing girls volleyball. Not until February 15, according to the IHSA’s new shortened sports schedule.
At a news conference Wednesday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a set of restrictions on youth and adult sports in Illinois, including IHSA and club sports. Volleyball was categorized as a “medium risk” sport, limited to practice and intra-team scrimmages with no competition.
Golf and girls tennis, which are also conducted in the fall, were listed as “low risk” sports, while football topped the list of “higher risk” activities. Low-risk sports have no restrictions other than the application of some common-sense safety measures.
Three hours and a website crash later, the Illinois High School Association announced a revised sports schedule for the 2020-21 academic year based on the governor’s guidelines that is likely to create some consternation in the volleyball community.
Girls volleyball was among the sports scheduled to play an abbreviated “spring” schedule beginning February 15 and ending May 1. The boys volleyball season was moved to the “summer,” beginning May 3 and running through June 26.
“This plan, like nearly every aspect of our current lives, remains fluid,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “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.”
One of the concerns expressed in a media conference call Wednesday was the IHSA rule that does not allow students to compete for their high school teams and participate in club sports or travel teams at the same time. Anderson acknowledged the issue, but said the IHSA board has not made a decision.
So while girls and boys high school volleyball schedules won’t bump heads, unless the IHSA grants a reprieve or the USAV revises its schedule, girls who opt to play for their high school teams could miss out on some national qualifiers and seniors could miss the USAV 18s Junior National Championships in late April entirely.
“I’m thrilled for our girls that we will still have a season and it wasn’t just cancelled,” said Hersey girls volleyball coach Nancy Lill.
“The conflict with club might present some issues, but hopefully girls clubs can follow the model that boys volleyball clubs had, starting earlier, pausing during the short high school season and starting up again in late April,” she added. “Possibly some qualifiers can be moved, especially if other states have spring high school seasons as well.”
Illinois boys volleyball players, meanwhile, could also be forced to choose between playing for their high school teams and their club teams, since the boys’ USAV junior national tournament typically begins the last week in June and those athletes would have little or no turnaround time between seasons.
“They are putting the boys in a bad position with this decision,” said Sports Performance boys director Troy Gilb. “Unless USA Volleyball or the JVA/AAU comes up with an alternative national championship event, it could potentially put our boys in a position to have to decide between playing high school or playing club in June … and that is a bridge that no one wants to cross.
“It could potentially create conflict between club coaches and high school coaches that could have been avoided with better planning,” he added. “We all want the boys to play their club season, have a high school season and have the opportunity to compete at nationals. With so many states having different high school seasons this year, the better question is, which states could be left out of nationals?
“Right now, it looks like Illinois will be affected,” Gilb said.
A possible conflict between high school and club volleyball is not the only issue that moving the girls’ season to the “spring” would create.
“It is great that the student-athletes are getting to have some form of a season, but I wish that we could have someway kept girls’ volleyball in the fall,” said longtime IHSA official and assignor Nancy Nester.
“Its going to be somewhat of a challenge assigning officials with the new seasons,” she said. “Junior college, Division II, Division III and NAIA volleyball have also moved to the spring. Many officials work all levels.
“But the best thing is the kids will get to play,” Nester added. “Fingers crossed that all sports do get to happen.”
Meanwhile, the Great Lakes Region of USA Volleyball said it would issue a statement Thursday regarding any adjustments it might make to the girls club season, including starting September 1 or splitting the season (similar to the boys).
Girls’ club teams would still not be able to compete outside their own facilities in the fall since the governor’s restrictions also applies to club sports.
As for the IHSA season, Anderson said revisions to the schedules could be made on the fly, depending on input from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“I understand that today’s announcement will be met with mixed emotions,” said Anderson. “Our staff and board have heard from thousands of people over the past few weeks with ideas, opinions and proposals on how we should proceed.
“We respect and understand their passion, because we share in it,” he added. “It is a great reminder that if we want high school sports to return to normal, we all need to do our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”