‘I’m Pretty Disappointed’: IHSA’s Fall Sports Regulations Cause Dismay Among Student-Athletes


Photo and graphic: Peter Elliott

Carley Walker, Editor-in-Chief

A roaring sea of blue and gold flutters as the football team rushes onto Varsity Field, accompanied by the clanging of cowbells filling the West Campus night. The sound of the band sets the soundtrack for a night of action, as middle schoolers huddle obliviously near the concessions stand, inventing the latest junior high drama.

The Poms and Cheerleading teams would rush across the field during halftime and showcase one of their newest routines enrapturing the audience of students, staff, and parents.

In previous years, even the harshest North Shore weather couldn’t stop any of this from unfolding on any given Friday night. But this year, there will be no screams, strained throats, or seas of blue and gold this year.

In early July, the IHSA announced the new regulations for high school sports to be carried out in the 2020-2021 academic school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization stated a select contactless sports would be carried out in the fall, while many contact sport that are at higher risk of having players in contact have been pushed back, with the hope that there is a vaccine or less cases of COVID-19 in the upcoming months.

Just four sports — cross country, golf, girls swimming, and girls tennis — have seen their seasons continue as planned, with the rest pushed back to the winter or spring seasons. The reshuffling has seen the advent of a summer sports season, which will be comprised of the spring sports that have been punted down next year’s calendar.

With the IHSA’s new regulations, football will be moved to the spring season starting February 1 and concluding May 1, along with a new roster of spring sports. Even with the season being moved, if there are still several cases and no vaccine for the coronavirus, the football season may be void of spectators, lacking the rowdy ambiance that football games typically foster.

Mac Uihlein (left) and Jack Graham (right) were members of a Scouts team that made it to the first round of the IHSA State Playoffs last year. The football season has been pushed to the spring by the IHSA.

“Right now, we don’t know too much about what we can and can’t do,” said senior football player Daniel Flusser. “But, we can condition, go over plays, have our meetings, but I don’t know when we’ll even be able to use footballs for a while. All I know right now is that our games are in the spring.”

For athletes and spectators alike, football season is a big part of the Lake Forest High School experience. Over the past few years, the graduated classes have emphasized to underclassmen the importance of school spirit and has made both home and away football games the hub of school spirit.

“There are a lot of fun traditions that seniors get on poms, and other student-athletes, such as walking on the field for the senior night football game, that myself and my friends are going to miss out on,” said Varsity Poms dancer, senior Tess Ivinjack, “I’ve looked forward to these traditions since my freshman year, so the thought that I might not get to experience that in the same way that previous seniors got to is really sad,” said Ivinjack.

The cheerleading and poms seasons have been tentatively pushed back into the winter season.

For the select fall sports that are allowed to continue, the IHSA laid out a rigid season structure, with practice allowed to begin on August 10 and the season to conclude on October 24, cutting the typical fall season almost in half.

The Varsity Poms team has been unable to practice their routines due to the Athletic Departmen’s rigid protocol regarding team contact and distancing within indoor spaces.

Fall athletes, such as members of the girls swimming and boys and girls cross country, have expressed their dismay regarding the brevity of the reformed fall sports calendar.

“I just think it’s a little unfair that football was prioritized in that they’re allowed to have a full season, but girls swimming and diving gets eight weeks,” said varsity swimmer Lili Sandor. “Our season is about 16 weeks normally with dual meets and invites each week and three championship meets at the end of the season. Even the boys [swimming and diving] team gets a full season,” said Sandor.

Along with significant alterations to their season, the girls swim team — which will have their first meet on August 29 — has seen notable alterations to the process of preparing for their races. The team can no longer participate in relay races, which have always been a big part of the swim season. Before meets, there can only be one swimmer in a lane to warm up, with the swimmer allotted just five minutes to warm up in the water, as opposed to previous years where multiple swimmers were allowed to warm up in one lane for a total of forty minutes. Masks also must be worn whenever a swimmer is not in the water.

With the enforcement of social distancing on the field, many believe the competitive nature of their sport has been stripped away. For cross country, the races will now be staggered time trials in which athletes cannot run next to each other, or within a reasonable distance to pass each other. During practice, the athletes can no longer run in their usual crowds, but have to run in single file lines, six feet apart.

“We’re a little bummed that the competitive nature of cross country was cut due to the pandemic because we can’t race directly against people or run with a crowd,” said senior varsity cross country runner Peter Elliott.

“I’m pretty disappointed because we won’t really be racing anyone and my favorite part of the sport has always been the competitive nature of it,” added senior Casey Hippel. “It’s sad that after all the hard work my team and I have put in, that we can’t race our senior year and instead have to do completely isolated runs where no one will really catch up to you and you surely won’t catch up to the person ahead of you.”

The Girls Swimming team has seen significant alternations to their season.

For senior athletes that are trying to get recruited by colleges, the recruiting timeline looks slightly different especially with the NCAA dead period being extended to September 30. However, athletes are optimistic that the recruiting timeline will work in their favor and right now, the recruiting process is not one of their biggest worries.

“I can’t go on official visits to colleges which worries me, but coaches are more understanding now, because I’m not going to be improving my times a ton,” said senior swimmer Claire Carden. “But, it’s so competitive to be recruited in college because it’s such a popular sport especially in Illinois. It’s still cutthroat, but coaches are nicer now if you are not improving as much of your time.”

Student-athletes have mixed feelings regarding their upcoming seasons, most are glad that they are able to compete, but many are wary about not knowing exactly what their seasons will look like because they feel they have been left in the dark by the athletic department for when and how they will practice.

“Other schools near us, such as Libertyville and Loyola have been practicing in their dance studios in their schools and have already learned their choreography for nationals, and we don’t even have a team. It’s mostly because the LFHS Athletic Department has been very vague and hasn’t let very few teams into the building yet. So, it’s been frustrating to see other teams have a semi-normal season when we have nothing planned for the dance team at LFHS,” said Ivinjack.

“Our team was supposed to have tryouts back in April, but they got cancelled,” said senior Caroline Walsh. “With nationals in February, we are just hoping we can practice as soon as possible. Poms is such a big part of everyone in the team’s life, so I hope we can have a plan soon.”

For the sports with minimal contact, like tennis, this season won’t look all that different in comparison to previous seasons — only now with more sanitation.

“I think tennis should be able to work out pretty well since it is usually a pretty socially distanced sport,” said senior Kiley Rabjohns, a two-time state champion. “People have been really good about not touching the other person’s tennis balls which for sure helps. Overall, I think that a pretty normal season should be able to happen. But, I hope we are still able to do as many fun activities as a team since that’s one of the best parts.”

Despite the weariness shared among all athletes, given the state the world is in right now amidst the pandemic with a spike in cases projected to arise in the coming months, all the athletes are glad to have a season in some capacity.

“Everyone is going through the same situation, so complaining won’t do anything. All I can hope for is to play with my senior buddies one last time in the spring before we graduate,” said senior football player Mac Uihlien.

For all the senior athletes and seniors in general, this upcoming 2020-2021 school year is not what anyone anticipated or could have predicted to happen. Right now, the most important goal among the senior athletes is to make the most of what is possible, and abide by the regulations to keep competitors, staff, and teammates around them healthy.

“All you can ask for is to play the sport and be able to do it with your friends and that hasn’t been taken away, so I feel very fortunate to have this,” said Elliott. “Even though it’s different from what I hoped my senior season would look like, I’m just happy to have it.”