PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) – It’s the kind of news high school coaches and athletes have been waiting to hear for months.
New guidelines announced by the Illinois Department of Public Health allow for all high school sports to return in Illinois COVID Regions that are in Phase 4. That would include sports, such as football, basketball and wrestling, which are designated as high risk by the state.
The 20-country area which includes Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and McLean counties of Region 2 are currently in Tier 1 Mitigations, one step away from improving to Phase 4. Low-risk winter sports (swimming, gymnastics, bowling, dance and cheer) are allowed to compete under Tier 1 Mitigations after seven days of practice.
Area sports leaders say this is a major step towards getting competition back in central Illinois.
“This is the news we have been waiting for. I think kids and coaches have been skeptical that they’ve been practicing the last week and there’s no games scheduled,” Peoria High athletic director Brien Dunphy said. “And they are kind of wondering what they are doing in the gym. And we can’t wait to see what that schedule looks like.”
“We just got to continue to do things the right way. Not only us, but with things in the community and things like that,” Richwoods football coach Roland Brown said. “With opening things back up, there’s always that chance you could see it go the other direction, but you really hope it doesn’t. It’s exciting, we’ll get a chance to get out and coach these kids one more time and get on the field and have some games against other people, and it’s something to look forward to.”
“We have some statistics from other states that say, hey, we can get this done. And not only in basketball, it can be done in everything,” Peoria Notre Dame basketball coach Tom Lacher said. “So I think so, we are hoping, we are always very hopeful and it would be really, really nice to get going again.”
Medium-risk sports (volleyball, soccer) will begin practicing next week and will also be allowed to compete. However, high-risk sports are not able to compete until Region 2 moves to Phase 4.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the acting director of the IDPH, made the announcement Friday during the state’s daily COVID briefing. Regions 3, 5 and 6 are currently in Phase 4.
The IHSA board is scheduled to meet Jan. 27 to map out a new sports calendar for the remainder of the year. The IHSA confirmed Friday that all athletes will be required to wear masks during competition and a maximum of 50 spectators will be allowed for events in Phase 4 regions, 25 fans for those in Tier 1 and no fans in Tier 2.
High school sports in Illinois have been on hold since Nov. 20 when Governor JB Pritzker moved the state to Tier 3 Mitigations. The IHSA had a shortened fall sports season for golf, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming teams.
You can watch the full press conference containing the announcement below:
This story will be updated.