Constant changes make planning difficult for ADs

  • Even for low-risk winter sports like girls gymnastics, making the schedule is a challenge for athletic directors who don't know yet when the season is scheduled to end or what kind of state series there might be. They hope to learn those answers and more after the IHSA meeting Wednesday.

      Even for low-risk winter sports like girls gymnastics, making the schedule is a challenge for athletic directors who don't know yet when the season is scheduled to end or what kind of state series there might be. They hope to learn those answers and more after the IHSA meeting Wednesday. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Updated 1/23/2021 2:22 PM

Bob Quinn coached baseball for years at Wheaton Warrenville South before becoming athletic director at Naperville North.

Which is a good thing, considering the number of curve balls he's seen this year.


Another one came Friday when Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said all regions in Illinois that reach Phase 4 of COVID-19 mitigations can play all high school sports, including basketball and football.

"It has been absolutely crazy, honest to goodness," Quinn said. "(Friday), while it was exciting and the prospects for getting things done is terrific, it's going to be a tough five months here for kids, coaches and schools, but we will get it done. It's a good thing for sure."

Athletic directors certainly have had to be on their toes this year. They've had to adjust on the fly to new safety measures, seasons starting, stopping and changing at moment's notice.

They make one plan only to scrap it and start over. Again.

Just Friday, Quinn had a staff Zoom meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. He finished his agenda at 12:45.

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"By 1:15 the agenda was almost worthless," Quinn said. "That's how crazy and how quickly things change."

It's also not easy navigating all the different health metrics and guidelines, often different between federal, state and local agencies, and not consistent between the IDPH and the IHSA. Even the good news Friday about high-risk sports comes with the reality that while DuKane Conference member DeKalb is in Tier 1, other schools around the state like those near St. Louis are still Tier 3.

"The disparity that exits across the state is unbelievable," Quinn said. "Phases, tiers, metrics, it's so confusing.

"It's all of sudden, 'We are going to play basketball,' and it's like, 'No we're not, we're still in Tier 2.' We are closer to Tier 3 than Tier 1.

"Our coaches are excited and energized and thrilled at the prospects of having a season. But we have to stay vigilant, we have to make good decisions. If we don't we are going to be back the other way. We have to remember we are still in the middle of a pandemic and stick to the guidelines."

Athletic directors will be busy again this coming week. Schedules can begin for low-risk competition, and they can start deciding on a basketball plan.


Wednesday looms large

And the big date to remember is Wednesday, when the IHSA will meet to establish new time frames for winter, spring and summer seasons.

"The 27th is a huge day and I hope we get more information than less," Quinn said. "I hope we get structure for the rest of the year. That would help us tremendously.

"One of the most challenging things we've had to deal with is the uncertainty out there. Athletic directors become really good at planning and preparing ahead of time so there's no surprises. This year we've dealt with nothing but surprises."

As usual, every district is doing things slightly differently.

Stevenson athletic director Trish Betthauser said they do not have a start date yet for the low-risk winter sports, but they have schedules ready to adapt once the start dates are established. Stevenson did start low-risk winter sports practices Thursday.

Schaumburg also started practices for those sports and is planning on competitions for the week of Feb. 1.

Athletic director Marty Manning said they have schedules made for December that they will transfer, perhaps having to cut a contest of two depending on the length of the new winter season. He's hoping the IHSA will extend the winter season to the last week of March so they can have a 7- to 8-week season.

Manning also said by getting all winter sports started soon, it will avoid all the conflicts that would arise if basketball was played from April-June, for example.

There's sure to be conflicts

"That would be really difficult to pull off," Manning said of the basketball season being delayed. "There will be a ton of conflicts: for athletes, for coaches, for facilities, and for officials. I just don't think you can feasibly have 15-20 sports being played (with competitions) at the same time."

Jacobs began practices Thursday.

"Scheduling at the moment is very fluid, but we're trying to piece together as many opportunities as possible for our student-athletes," Jacobs athletic director Joe Benoit said.

Wauconda athletic director Mark Ribbens said he's already made three revisions of the softball schedule, which is no big deal.

"It's a first-world problem," Ribbens said. "We can manage it. Part of our job is to revise schedules. We're happy to do it. At the drop of a hat we can pivot and make those changes."

Quinn is hoping for as many specifics as possible from Wednesday's IHSA meeting. For example, he can't plan the gymnastics schedule until he knows if there is going to be some sort of a state series, and when the season ends.

He also needs dates for spring and summer sports. So do athletes who have plenty of other things to juggle like jobs, travel sports and vacations.

"I hope kids don't get put into bad spots," Quinn said. "I hope we don't have kids that have to make choices between sports. All that being said we are in a better spot than we were a week ago. But it's going to be a challenge for everybody. We all have a finite group of facilities, a finite amount of time. All kinds of things that have boundaries and getting and packaging all but 6 sports into 24 weeks is going to be a challenge for everybody."

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