Fall athletics adapt to COVID-19 safety regulations

The Mustang Staff

The COVID-19 pandemic may have put a halt to in-person learning, but a handful of sports are still running this fall, and others have been postponed to later this school year. 

The Illinois High School Association reworked the traditional athletic season to account for new safety regulations and social distancing, and the organization announced its plans in a press release on July 29.

“The Board believes this plan offers the most realistic chance for student-athletes to participate in interscholastic sports while balancing the challenges of a new academic setting and IDPH [Illinois Department of Public Health] Guidelines,” Erie High School Principal and IHSA Board President Tim McConnell stated in the press release. “We are an education-based athletic association, and school has to come first. By delaying the majority of the team sports in the fall, it will allow our schools and students the chance to acclimate to what will be, for many, a totally new educational experience. We will do our best to try to give every student-athlete the opportunity for a season this school year.”

The sports currently running in the fall season include girls swimming and diving, girls tennis, boys and girls cross country, and boys and girls golf. 

The higher-risk contact sports (as labeled by IHSA) that typically run in fall, such as football, boys soccer and girls volleyball, have been postponed to spring and summer seasons. 

Coaches and athletes from the traditional fall sports share how the new athletics calendar and guidelines have affected them.

IHSA allows these fall sports to run

Boys Cross Country

By William Fisher

 As a captain on the varsity boys cross country team, senior Nathan Clapp has been participating in cross country his entire time at MHS and four years before that. 

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

I think the IHSA guidelines are pretty reasonable, but those don’t really matter since the NSC (North Suburban Conference) regulations are much stricter. I think the NSC should remove some of their additional regulations to allow us to compete under IHSA’s guidelines.

How is the season different from traditional seasons?

This season is really different from normal seasons because many of our invitational meets were cancelled, so now our season consists only of dual meets. Under NSC guidelines, we’re also not allowed to compete head-to-head with the other team, so each team has to run in a time trial format. Even then, each individual runner starts fifteen seconds apart, so nobody’s running together. It’s incredibly hard because you can’t pace with anyone else, and you’re running completely on your own.

What was your reaction when you heard your sport was running this fall?

I was extremely grateful that cross country was running this fall because I didn’t want to see it get pushed back or cancelled because that would’ve meant two seasons in a row (track and cross country) were cancelled. I really wanted to compete in the fall so that I wouldn’t have to wait even longer to see my training pay off.

How are you maintaining team chemistry while adhering to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines?

It’s easy to still maintain team spirit despite the social distancing guidelines because everyone stretches and works out together, so we all get to know each other like we would in any other season.

Girls Cross Country

By Megan Burns

As a varsity girls cross country runner, senior Hope Peterson said she’s been running her whole life but started cross country in seventh grade at Fremont Middle School. She has been on the team at MHS for all four years of high school.

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

It can be a little difficult to stay upbeat throughout the whole race when runners aren’t really pushing you, but all of us are doing a really great job of having fun and just making the most of this season. We work to catch up with teammates in front of us. We are now able to enter into some meets where we can all run together, which has been really nice. Everyone on our team is just grateful for the opportunity to run and just be together.

What was your reaction when you heard your sport was running this fall?

I was so excited when I heard that cross was running this fall because I really wanted to finish out my senior year on a high note and be around all of my amazing teammates. This sport has taught me so much and been such a big part of my life, so I’m really thankful to run this season.

How is the season different from traditional seasons?

This season’s a little different from traditional seasons because we never know when we could get shut down based on a spike in cases. Basically, this season we go out there and leave it all on the course. We’ve all been working on just making the most of every single practice whether it’s a tough track workout, a meet or even a recovery run. We’ve been sure to maintain our distances [to] ensure that nothing is jeopardizing us from running.

How are you maintaining team chemistry while adhering to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines?

I held a pasta party at my house last week before our meet at Adler Park in Libertyville. We all sat distanced apart on picnic blankets. It was really fun to feel like old times– laughing, catching up and carb-loading on good food while still socially distancing. We still are able to talk and catch up while we go on our runs, just a little farther apart on the sidewalks. We’ve always been a team with good chemistry, so it was no problem for us. 

Boys Golf

By Nicholas Schwenk

Identified as a lower risk sport by the IHSA, boys golf was allowed to run from Aug. 10-Oct. 24 with certain safety precautions in place. Jackson Koenigsknecht, sophomore, reflected on how the season has been similar and different to previous seasons. 

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

The IHSA guidelines were reasonable because they allowed for us to have a season, and the guidelines didn’t change the way that we played a whole lot. Wearing a mask and temperature checks quickly became normal and wasn’t that big of a deal. 

What was your reaction when you heard your sport was running this fall?

The team was very excited because we put in a lot of work over the summer to prepare for a season, and when we heard the news that we were going to have a season, [that] was very exciting. Some of us felt that if one season was going to get cancelled, then they all were, but it was a big relief to find out that we were still going to have a season despite some sports being [postponed].

How is this season different from other seasons in the past?

This season is different from previous seasons because we have the increased safety protocols for COVID-19. This season we also have a much less experienced team than in years previous, so we all needed to step up our game to try and compete at the same level as last year.

How are you maintaining team chemistry while adhering to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines?

I don’t think that it is very difficult to maintain it because we are all still with each other every day at practice and in matches. This year, though, we haven’t really gone to dinner after matches as a team like we used to, so that is definitely one thing we are all missing, but other than that, not much has changed. The team has definitely got a lot closer together throughout the year, so that will benefit us in the future.

Girls Golf 

By Kate Hill

Since eighth grade, junior Madelyn Forster has been playing golf, and this year she is on the varsity girls golf team. 

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

For golf, I think the IHSA guidelines are not as strict as I thought they would be. They lifted the rule of wearing masks while playing, but we still have to remain 6 feet apart. Golf is also a very socially distant game, so it was somewhat normal.

What was your reaction when you heard your sport was running this fall?

I was pretty happy when golf wasn’t postponed. I was excited to get to see my friends again and have fun. I was also kind of nervous because it was my first time playing for the school since March.

How is this season different from traditional seasons?

My coach knew that golf would be happening, so we got a lot of practice over the summer. Golf is already a very socially distant game and doesn’t have a lot of contact. It kind of feels back to normal, at least from a golfing perspective.

How are you maintaining team chemistry while adhering to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines?

On Tuesdays, a bunch of girls from different high schools all came to play nine holes at Countryside Golf Course. It was just practice rounds, but I think that really helped us as a team this year. It was fun getting to be around great golfers from other schools as well as my own teammates.

Junior Natalie Wiersema has been playing girls golf since last year as a member of the JV team. While her season has been allowed to run this fall, it has been shortened with the season running from August to late October. 

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

Personally, I think the IHSA guidelines for our golf season this year are very reasonable. We get to play the same as usual just with masks on and not being able to touch other people’s balls or scorecards, which honestly doesn’t make much of a difference at all. You’re allowed to take off your masks when you’re hitting, and when you’re a safe distance from other people outdoors, but having a mask on just feels really normal at this point, so sometimes I just forget it’s there and play with it on the entire time. 

What was your reaction when you heard your sport was running this fall?

I was pretty happy to hear that we were still on for our fall season because golfing in the snow later in the year didn’t sound fun at all. The weather in the fall is so nice for golf, and I would be sad to see this time go by and not get used to our golf season. Especially since we were doing summer camp right before the school year started, I think going right into the season was the best for us.

How is this season different from traditional seasons?

This season is really not much different than usual. Golf is already very individual, and It’s super easy for us to cheer each other on and help each other out from across the fairway.

How are you maintaining team chemistry while adhering to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines?

I feel like I’m still getting to know my new teammates and old teammates pretty well by just talking everyday. I’ve had a really good time talking with my teammates at matches, and we still have fun together! 

Girls Swim & Dive

By Olivia Baude

Ella Fidanze, senior, has been on the swim team since freshman year and has been swimming competitively since she was 7. This year she is captain of the varsity girls swim team during this unprecedented time for high school sports.

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

The IHSA guidelines this year can be tough to follow, but I am grateful for them since they are meant to keep us safe. Most of the rules make a lot of sense. For example, we can’t have more than 50 people on [the pool] deck, and we have to wear masks when we’re not swimming. The rule that’s toughest to follow is that we can’t do relays anymore. It changes the format of the meet, and relays are always something everyone loves, so it’s tough that we can’t do them but also completely understandable. 

How is this season different from traditional seasons?

One of the biggest differences this season from traditional seasons is that we no longer have invites. The only meets we are competing in this year are duals, and we will have a conference and sectionals, but we don’t know how they will work yet…. Another huge difference is that JV, varsity and diving all have to have their own separate practices and competitions because there’s too many of us when we are all on deck at the same time. This is unfortunate because we are a really close team and love to see each other at practice and cheer each other on at competitions.

What was your reaction when you heard your sport was running this fall?

When I found out we were going to be able to compete this fall I was so excited. I had heard a lot of rumors that no sports would be competing or that our season would only be practices and virtual meets, but we are lucky enough to have a season, and it’s actually a pretty normal one considering the circumstances.

How are you maintaining team chemistry while adhering to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines?

It has been really tough to maintain team chemistry throughout the whole team while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines because JV, varsity, and diving all have to practice and compete at separate times. This means we unfortunately don’t get to see each other as often as we would like to, but each group has done really well at keeping chemistry within their group. Although we can’t do activities together, all three groups have had activities that adhere to guidelines, such as bonfires with masks on. In varsity, we have continued the tradition of having a big sister/little sister. We were able to take senior pictures all together, while socially distanced and with masks, and we are hoping to be able to still have some sort of senior night and end-of-season banquet if possible. It is really important to try and keep chemistry because it keeps the morale of the team up, especially in the tough times we’re in right now.

Girls Tennis

By Tress Dorfler

Tennis player Hannah Earich, junior, shares how her experience playing a socially distanced sport this fall is going so far. 

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

I think [IHSA] was a little unreasonable at first, but they’ve changed a few [expectations] since the season started. At first they didn’t allow us to use score cards, which means we had to keep track of several sets of scores in our heads. 

What was your reaction when you heard your sport was running this fall?

When I first heard I was still able to play tennis, I felt relieved. Remote learning has made this school year feel so different, so having tennis brought a nice sense of normalcy.

How is the season different from a traditional season?

This season has been different because I feel like we’re more energized, both our team and others. As time consuming and difficult as it can be, we’re all excited to get outside and play with other people.

How are you maintaining team chemistry while adhering to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines?

We’ve all been trying our best to get the same sense of team spirit while still being safe. After playing all morning at big tournaments, we usually go [out] as a team to lunch, but now none of that’s allowed. We’ve been able to work around it by meeting somewhere and coming in separate cars, and our coach and the seniors have been trying their best to organize times like those.

IHSA postpones these fall sports to later season

Boys Soccer

By Nicholas Schwenk

For his first season at MHS, Varsity Head Coach Sebastian Falinski will have to wait for his team to compete until the spring season, which will run from Feb. 1-May 1. As with several other sports, this traditional fall season sport has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Falinski has been coaching since 2005 when he started teaching. At Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, Ill., he coached for 15 years as the boys varsity assistant coach and 12 years as the girls varsity head coach. He also played collegiate soccer at Lewis University from 2001-2004.  

What visions do you have for the soccer program?

I would like to develop a program that sees success at every level (competes for conference championships, makes deep playoff runs and produces opportunities for players to play at the collegiate level).  But, ultimately, I would like every player in our program to develop the skills and the characteristics that will allow them to be successful long after they leave our program. Hopefully, this will be accomplished by having high program expectations, but also by providing players leadership opportunities throughout each level.  I think it’s absolutely amazing to watch a team work together toward a common goal.  There’s a quote out there that says something like [this]: “The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back jerseys.” I think that is important to understand for both team success and individual success, but none of this will be possible if we do not have individual accountability and team accountability in and out of the classroom.     

What do you think of the IHSA’s regulations for this season?

I think IHSA is trying to do the right thing by providing every player (especially seniors) an opportunity to play their season.  We saw what happened last spring, and I’m sure they felt sorry that last year seniors could not have closure to their senior season.  But, as we have learned, everything is constantly changing, and I hope they continue to change for the better. 

What was your reaction when you heard your season was postponed, and what is your team doing to prepare for the season?

My reaction was “glad our season was not cancelled, and we still have an opportunity to play,” especially for me since I am new to MHS.  This gives me a little more time to get to know the players in the program and build positive relationships with them.  Currently, IHSA is allowing us to have 20 contact days with fall sports. We are using this opportunity as a way to see players play in a more competitive atmosphere, which we were not able to do in the summer. However, more importantly, these days are more for the student-athletes to de-stress, get to see their teammates and do something that they enjoy doing.  As for the coaches, this gives an opportunity to watch and access players for the upcoming season.  

If you were in the IHSA’s position, would you have postponed the sport?

Most definitely– I think there is so much unknown information about COVID-19 and the effects it has on individuals aged 5-18.  Remember, school shut everything down last March on the possibility of one individual being infected with COVID-19.  I understand and value the importance of athletics for student-athletes, but I would not want to be the one responsible to make


By Rylan Foster

Senior Alex Wing played football as an outside linebacker, kicker and punter last year. He has played the sport for nine years and will continue to play this year during the postponed season scheduled for the spring.

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

It’s tough because I’m so used to playing football in the beginning of the year. But, overall, I’m still really happy we were even given a season. The thought of not playing my senior season was scary, so given the opportunity to still play is all I can ask for. It’s nice that Governor Pritzker is looking out for everyone’s health the best he can while still providing an opportunity for football to have a season.

What was your reaction when you heard your sport got postponed?

At first I was bummed because nothing beats Friday Night Lights and playing for your school and community. But, to me, it’s like turning a negative into a positive. Since the season got postponed, it allows my teammates, coaches and I to prepare even more for this upcoming season.

What, if anything, is your team doing to prepare for the postponed season?

Every team in Illinois is allowed 20 contact days until Oct. 31. This basically means sports like football that don’t have a season now can have up to 20 practices (allowing interaction and instruction between coaches and student athletes) until Oct. 31. Along with that, the football team was allowed to [weight] lift inside the school on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. We are taking every opportunity we can get as a team to prepare for this upcoming season the best we can.

What are you doing to keep your skills honed during this time?

During this time, I’ve been trying to practice almost everyday I can to still improve my skills. Although trying to find an open field has been tough, I’ve been able to find a few fields that are open that I am able to practice on. My teammates and I have met on numerous occasions to work as a team and build chemistry with each other. Not only that, I’ve attended multiple football camps with Kohl’s Kicking and The Kicking Coach to learn and get ranked across the best kickers and punters across the country.

Girls Volleyball

By Ashley Cline

As the assistant varsity girls volleyball coach and the JV boys volleyball coach, English Teacher Beth Willis has been coaching for eight years at MHS. Girls volleyball has been moved from fall to spring while boys volleyball has been moved from the spring season to the summer.

What do you think of the IHSA guidelines this year?

I understand that keeping our student-athletes safe is the number one priority, but I miss having a normal season. I am very glad that we get to have any kind of season at all because I have missed working with my players.

What was your reaction when you heard your sport got postponed?

When I heard that the boys season was going to be cancelled back in March, I was so disappointed. I knew we were going to have an outstanding season, and the boys didn’t even get an opportunity to play. It was a very confusing time.

What if anything is your team doing to prepare for the postponed season?

Fortunately, Coach [George] Dressen, head volleyball coach, and [Athletic Director Troy] Parola worked hard to come up with a way for both our boys and girls volleyball players to get some playing time in the gym this month while they wait for their seasons, which have been postponed until the spring. We had our first practice [on Sept. 9], and it was wonderful to see so many players after all this time.

If you were in the IHSA’s position, would you have postponed your sport? Why or why not?

That is a tough question! As a former athlete, I understand how important sports are to many students, but as a parent/adult, I think it is important to consider the health and safety of all people involved in sports (fans, officials, family members, coaches, etc.), not just the athlete. Let’s just say that I am glad I didn’t have to make that decision.