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Craig Anderson, the executive director of the Illinois High School Association, reached out to the IHSA's nearly 800 member schools Wednesday, letting them know that while spring sports (including practices) were suspended until at least April 8, the organization is still hopeful there can be some sort of 2020 season despite the needed efforts to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Us too, Craig.
I've been giving a lot of thought to the matter these past few weeks, as you might expect, trying to: 1) deduce if there is any chance a high school spring season of some sort could still be played; and 2) what it would look like if so.
On Point 1, if I'm being honest I'd have to say it looks like a long shot. Maybe a 15% chance, I'd put it at? Probably more like 10%. I don't think I'm breaking any news by telling you things aren't looking good for kids piling into buses and driving to other towns to play sports against other towns' kids at the moment.
If that 10% chance did come through, though, it would bring us to Point 2. What would that season look like?
Certainly not what we're used to in non-pandemic years. Already a couple weeks of the spring season have been wiped out, and a couple more will be by the time that April 8 date — a best-case scenario date, mind you — comes along. Even if practice resumed April 8 and contests could commence, say, April 13, schedules would have to be completely redrawn to make up for time and conference games lost.
I personally find it an extreme long shot anything moves forward along that front in April at all. A May 4 return to practice, while still optimistic, seems much less far-fetched.
Anderson mentioned the possibility of playing beyond the typical close of the season in late May/early June, which would be a possibility for some but not all student-athletes. Some have travel team commitments, jobs to worry about, college to get ready for.
So I asked a handful of our area's softball and baseball coaches these questions:
How much practice time minimum do you feel you would need to play a postseason-only season in late May/early June? No regular-season games, just a set time period for practices and then straight into regionals? Do you feel that could work if need be?
I got some great answers. Here are samples of a few (with one from Your Friendly Neighborhood Sports Reporter at the end for good measure. It is my column, after all, who else should get the last word?):
Brent Moore, Ottawa baseball — "I feel coaches would be on board to play whatever would be possible. Most of these seniors are on their last shot for baseball and would gladly take any bit of a season. ... If we got back in time, I would love to see all teams get one week of practice, then maybe play a conference(-only) schedule. Then transfer that right into the playoffs. I think this is our best possible situation."
Jordan Farris, WFC softball — "I would say give us a day or two to review and let's do this thing. My girls have been working on their own, and I'm confident with the softball knowledge they have we would be ready to go."
Beau Albert, Streator baseball — "I'd be happy with a season at all. If we get back after Easter, I'd like to see them try and do a conference season at least and then regionals."
Chad and Kelly Baker, Serena baseball and softball (I let them answer together) — "We both feel that one week (of practice) would be plenty. ... We're hoping some of the players are doing some individual stuff while we're off; at least we know our own kids have. ... Playing just a postseason is sufficient because everyone is at Square 1 with this season. It's not like some teams are playing and others are not. It will be some consolation for the seniors. We'd like to see a shortened 8-10-game season before that if possible, but no one knows when this is going to turn around and what is feasible for the IHSA if and when it does."
Dawn Williams, Streator softball — "I would really like to have a week of practice, but I'm not sure how that would work into our schedule. ... I would find it beneficial to be able to (at least) practice or scrimmage with other teams."
Adam Lewis, Ottawa softball — Once it's safe to do so, I'm open to getting our players any opportunity at a 2020, no matter the length. The biggest hurdle would be making sure pitchers are ready to prevent injury. ... Ideally, we could get a few days of practice and maybe a week or two to schedule a few games prior to regionals. If the timeline doesn't allow, I'm all for a few days of practice and starting the postseason. It's better than nothing. We know this is happening all over the world, but that doesn't make seniors losing their final season any easier to handle."
"Bubs" Hoffman, WFC baseball — "I'd like to have at least three or four days to prepare. I'd favor a postseason only if you could get a few games under your belt first. If this situation drags into mid-May when regionals would be starting, I'd almost rather find some teams in the area and set up about five games, try and let everyone play and let your seniors go out with something positive. A regular postseason would only be one or two games for the majority of teams in the state with no guarantee of playing a home game for most. ... I'd like to salvage something positive from a situation (the kids) had no control over."
J.T. Pedelty, Times sports editor — "As for me? I love that the IHSA is waiting and seeing how things unfold. I've heard people complain about that, but I see no benefit in rushing to a decision. If things aren't looking good for April 8, push the potential return date to April 22. And when that runs into the month of May, start looking at postseason-only scenarios for baseball, softball, girls soccer, track and field, boys tennis and the rest of the state's spring sports. Maybe include a provision where teams/athletes eliminated from the postseason can schedule their own games after their elimination until the conclusion of the state tournaments, giving every team/athlete more than a one-and-done scenario; giving schools a chance to schedule old rivals and fun senior days."
It's an idea, right?
And who knows, these optimistic thoughts may be good for more than passing the time. They just might come in handy in a month or two.
Think positive and stay safe, everyone.