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Prep Sports | IHSA unveils Phase 2 of Return to Play guidelines
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Prep Sports | IHSA unveils Phase 2 of Return to Play guidelines

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If there’s a team that could use even a limited number of contact days next month, it’s the Carbondale boys basketball team.

“We’re in desperate need to figure out just what our team is going to be, who is going to be on the floor and what kind of chemistry we’re going to have,” said coach Jim Miller Wednesday. “Summer is the time you usually figure that out, and we’re missing out on that. But it can’t be helped.”

However, help might arrive for the Terriers, as well as all high school sports programs in Illinois. On Wednesday, the IHSA released Phase 2 of its Return to Play Plan, featuring the return of sport-specific drills and up to 20 contact days for coaches to work with their players prior to the start of fall sports practice on August 10.

Drawn up and approved on Monday during the IHSA’s board meeting, the plan must pass muster with the Illinois Department of Public Health before it can be implemented. It will also require the state’s advancement to Phase 4 of Gov. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, which could happen as soon as June 26.

Coaches like Miller and Fairfield football coach Justin Townsend reacted positively to the news.

“To me, it’s exciting,” Townsend said. “As a coach, you exhale a little more and hope it’s a little step towards getting to play the season. You hope it’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

It’s been mostly darkness since March 12, when the IHSA canceled its Class 1A/2A boys basketball state tournament less than 24 hours before 1A teams invaded Peoria Civic Center for the semifinals.

COVID-19 has been undefeated against the IHSA — and virtually every other sports organization — for the last three months. Spring sports were quashed for the school year in late April. Athletes and coaches have largely not seen each other, aside from social media meetings or chance encounters in their town.

That changed earlier this month when the IHSA finally earned IDPH approval for Phase 1 of Return to Play. The stipulations — no sport-specific drills, weight training and conditioning only — didn’t please some coaches, but were appreciated by others.

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“It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that we couldn’t use a ball, because it’s allowed us to get back to movements that will help us be ready when we get back to football,” Townsend said. “What we’ve done this week has been beneficial for our kids.”

In the IHSA’s Phase 2, athletes get to work out a maximum of five hours per day, two more than they can now. But the big news is that coaches will be able to introduce drills specific to their sport, and that contact days can be used.

July is normally a quieter time in IHSA circles, but Miller said that will change this year.

“It’s usually vacation time, but that won’t be the case this year,” he said. “By this time last year, we’d had three tournaments and 15 contact days under our belt. We just have to flexible and understand that at this time of year, fall sports have to come first.”

Teams will be allowed to gather in numbers of up to 50 people with 30 feet of space mandated. Schools will be permitted to have spectators for events like summer camp games in basketball, but admission will be limited to 20 percent of capacity.

Players and coaches will be allowed to wear masks. Officials can also wear masks and use an electronic whistle.

The last three months have been a series of adjustments for Townsend, who’s coached one way for 20 years. He’s learned another way recently that he thinks will make him a better coach in the long run.

He and everyone else in IHSA circles hopes he gets to demonstrate it in a couple of months.

“We’ve had to adjust a lot,” he said. “We’ve used Google Classroom, kept up with guys on social media and do things I couldn’t have imagined doing. Being able to instruct these guys again in person is exciting.

“As coaches, we’ve got to keep our eyes on the prize in order to get to prepare for games in August. So if they tell us we have to go without a ball all summer, I’ll do that if it means we’ll play the season.”

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