Athletics and The Coronavirus: How North is Managing Sports Amid A Pandemic


Addie Grimm

Tennis players apply hand sanitizer in between drills.

Caroline Look, Editor-in-Chief

On Wednesday, July 29–just three weeks before school started–the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced some changes to schools’ sports seasons due to the coronavirus.

One of the changes was only greenlighting certain sports. During the fall season, boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys and girls cross country and girls swim and dive will happen. The fall season started on Aug. 10 and will end on Oct. 24. 

These sports were deemed as low-risk sports by the Illinois Public Health Department, but another reason they were picked to run was because of the timing of other sports. For example, if they chose to run water polo at the same time as swim and dive, “you couldn’t have those dual-sport athletes and kids would have to choose,” said Daniel Dolney, Athletic Director. 

Likewise, another reason some sports were chosen to run was because of the weather. “If they tried to run golf, the only two seasons are the February to May season and the May to June season, and we all know that there’s been plenty of years in that February season when there’s still snow on the ground. So, it would be pretty hard to run golf, and we know how wet our springs are into May and so on,” said Dolney.

The IHSA took the original three-season structure–fall, winter, and spring–and stretched it into a four-season structure, adding summer to the other three. “So, they’re currently moving ahead with the winter sports during a reduced amount of time for those sports to be done,” said Dolney. “I think they ran the lower level sports they could start right now, and they look to push everybody else later in the year when hopefully there’s a better outlook.” 

Football, arguably the most popular fall sport, isn’t running until the spring, but they are still practicing. The summer camp was cut down from 25 to 12 days. Robert Pomazak, football head coach, bought all of his players masks as they are mandatory and water bottles, so the players didn’t have to share. Before each camp day, the coaches and staff would go through “practice planning” to ensure “that [the drill was] going to be socially distant and safe,” said Pomazak.

Another change was not allowing spectators to watch the events because “if we were to add fans, we’d have to subtract athletes,” said Dolney. This is due to the fact that only 50 people are allowed to gather in one place, according to the phase four guidelines rolled out by the IHSA. 

“We are trying to give the opportunity to as many student-athletes as possible, which is part of the reason why we can’t have spectators,” said Dolney.

An additional reason why spectators aren’t allowed to attend is because “we [would] have to be able to track everyone that’s been on campus,” said Dolney. He continued, “it also adds another layer of if we were to have fans, we now need to be able to check everyone in and have contact information for everybody who is here.”

Practices for the six sports look different from past years. Masks and social distancing are enforced at all times, but depending on the sport, specific changes can vary. 

For instance, swimmers have to leave ten seconds between each swimmer rather than the usual five, “which is a little different, and it takes some adjusting,” said swimmer Nicole Miller, senior. 

Tennis players have to practice in small groups, and they can’t touch the tennis balls, “but for the most part, everybody’s been doing a pretty good job with it so far,” said head tennis coach, Sean Masoncup. 

Both boy and girl cross country runners tend to run in packs, but because of the coronavirus, that habit needed to be squashed. Boys cross country head coach Kevin Harrington said, “we don’t get to be one big unit as much as we have been in the past.”

Along those same lines, girl cross country head coach Shari Hayes said, “people, high school kids, cross country girls tend to migrate towards each other…it’s just their natural instinct, you know, like pack animals, they all come together. So you’re always, like, ‘get away from each other,’ ‘Social distance.’” 

This year boys and girls cross country are practicing together, so “we have five coaches helping manage all of this between the two programs, so that’s different,” said Hayes. 

Under normal circumstances, before practice, girl golfers were required to “show up like a half an hour early to just talk and practice a little bit together,” said golfer Sophie Evers, senior. Now during tryouts, due to the coronavirus, it’s still allowed but no longer required. 

Despite these changes, Miller and Evers are still thankful to be playing their respective sports. Miller said, “I’m happy I’m swimming my senior season. I’m very grateful that I get to because it’s my last year,” and Evers said, “I’m just grateful that I’m able to play my senior year and finish up my high school, being able to do something that I’ve spent the last three years doing.”

Miller wants us to “stay positive. We’re gonna get through this together as a school. It’s not like it’s one of us against everyone. We’re in this together, so if we work together, it’ll go by faster.”