PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Schools athletic fields lay empty as high school athletes have no place to play.
Gov. J.B. Pritkzer said on Tuesday he’s not budging on his decision to keep players sidelined.
“Look I’m not willing to sacrifice people’s lives or their health. Neither the children nor their parents who would be affected also,” Pritzker said.
Many coaches and players are fed up as high school sports this fall are at a standstill. There are two “Let Us Play” rallies this weekend, one in Springfield and the other in Chicago. Protesters are asking anyone who wants sports to start-up to speak up.
The decision to keep athletes off the playing fields has sparked protests from athletes, coaches, and parents across the state.
“Sometimes the governor and the people making these decisions don’t understand how hard it really hits in the lives of some of these kids,” said Peoria High Football Head Coach Tim Thornton.
Thornton said the brotherhood of Peoria High Football has helped countless students succeed academically, mentally, and socially.
“We’re fighting battles every day on the phones, it’s harder to form those relationships that usually keep kids in school,” Thornton said. “Now we’re chasing kids down over phones and parents are saying ‘I can’t get him to log in.’ He’s frustrated with the process, he said he just wants to go work.”
Peoria Notre Dame Boy’s Soccer Head Coach Mike Bare said the life lessons learned from sports far outweigh the size of the trophies won.
“There’s a lot that goes into sports than just winning games,” Bare said.
“It’s the teamwork, discipline, hard work. We’re not just developing soccer players, we’re developing young men who are going to go on in life and be successful. Without sports, you’re losing a lot of those life lessons.”
Illinois coaches and players are asking anyone to contact lawmakers to support the cause to let youth and high school athletes play.
Congressman Darin LaHood (IL-18) supports the movement of bringing high school sports back this fall.
“I’ve been frustrated with the governor’s one size fits all for the State of Illinois. There has to be a recognition that we are not Chicago,” LaHood said.
LaHood said not allowing kids to play sports is a double-edged sword.
“You hurt the kids that have worked hard to participate in these sports and their mental well-being, then you hurt the economy in Peoria and Illinois,” LaHood said. “You look at the Louisville Slugger facility, The Yard, the FC, which is a soccer facility. You look at the revenue that’s lost to restaurants, hotels. Every other state around us is doing that.”
Excluding Illinois, states around the Midwest are allowing contact sports this fall. Pritzker said while many see that as a bad thing about the state, he points to the positivity rates of surrounding states as a reason to not bring sports back yet.
“This isn’t a political decision,” Pritzker said. “We have the lowest positivity rate in the Midwest, still too high. Look at the states you’re talking about, they all have very high positivity rates. Double-digit positivity rates in most.”
Both Thornton and Bare said athletes are able to participate in club sports in the state of Illinois, but not for their schools. They said it’s interesting how athletes are allowed to practice with their club teams and cross state lines to play games, but can’t represent their schools.
“Parents are finding a way to get their kids involved in these, we’ve seen people move across state lines to get it,” Thornton said. “It’s that important to people that they’re willing to uproot families. Right now they can’t be with their high schools but they can be with their club teams. And maybe their club is not by a certified coach, it’s by a guy who’s trying to step up and help them out.”
“In our practices with my girl’s team, we don’t have to wear masks when we’re in contact drills,” Bare said.
“Last week I found out if we’re gonna practice at Notre Dame, our boys have to wear masks. That’s a challenge for them. It’s a strenuous sport, a lot of physical activity, to have a mask that impedes your breathing, is difficult for the boys. With club sports while they say we can’t play in the state. A lot of teams in club sports, soccer, basketball are just going out of state. My girls are going out of state to Missouri.”
Bare and Thornton said the logic behind that decision doesn’t really make sense.
“To me, people are going to do what they can do. That makes more sense to play local games and to keep it within the community than to be going out of state and bring it back to your community,” Bare said.
“By not having them on the field, we’re not stopping them from the interaction that they’re worried about. If we had them on the field with the coaches, with the high schools, it would be in a more controlled environment,” Thornton said.
If you’re interested in attending one of the “Let Us Play” rallies this Saturday, the first takes place at 10:00 a.m. in Chicago at the James A. Thompson Center.
One closer to home is in Springfield by the Lincoln Statue at the State Capitol. That rally begins at 1:00 p.m.