September 19, 2021 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

SJO coaches react to IHSA’s revised sports plan: ‘We have a chance to play still’

No Friday night lights in the fall for the St. Joseph-Ogden High School football team to play under.


Likely no Toyota of Danville Classic for SJO boys’ basketball to host or the Christie Clinic Shootout the Spartans host in that particular sport.


The Spartan Classic, both in the fall for cross-country and in the spring for both track and field programs, likely won’t take place.


Limits on attendance and crowd sizes will likely be in place.


But high school sports will, right now, proceed during the upcoming 2020-21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.


On Wednesday, the IHSA unveiled dates for condensed seasons to happen. The biggest news: football, volleyball and boys’ soccer will all move from the fall to the spring.


“I love this for one simple reason,” SJO football coach Shawn Skinner said. “We have a chance to play still.”

Altering schedules
At SJO, boys’ cross-country, girls’ cross-country and golf will compete during the fall season, which is set to last from Aug. 10 through Oct. 17.

The winter sports season, running from Nov. 16 through Feb. 13, consists of the traditional winter sports of boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball and wrestling.


The spring sports season, though, will have an entirely new feel with football, volleyball and boys’ soccer set to take place from Feb. 15 through May 1. Then, a new summer season was added into the IHSA calendar, running from May 3 through June 26 that will include SJO having baseball, softball, boys’ track and field and girls’ track and field.


“We will do whatever we can to make everything work out for our student-athletes and coaches,” SJO athletic director Justin Franzen said. “We will need to follow the guidelines and make the continued adjustments necessary as things will continue to change. The best programs know when and how to make adjustments, and that is what we will have to do as we move forward.”


Franzen said having to adjust to the ever-changing guidelines regarding sports — which were halted at the high school level in Illinois in mid-March at the onset of the pandemic in then United States — is a constant during the pandemic.


“We want to always do what is best for our students, and as new guidelines have come out every other day, weekly, every other week, we have simply reacted to these adjustments to keep our students, coaches and everyone else on the same page,” Franzen said. “With the latest guidelines that just came out, we will continue to do the same thing. Our student-athletes and coaches have been fantastic throughout this whole situation, and we will continue to maintain our high expectations throughout this process.”

Some fall sports stay in the fall
Jason Retz, SJO’s boys’ and girls’ cross-country coach who is also the Spartans’ boys’ track and field coach, will get a chance to coach the Spartans in cross-country this fall before turning his attention to the track next May.

One option tossed out before Wednesday’s IHSA announcement pertained to the idea of flipping traditional fall sports to the spring and moving traditional spring sports to the fall. Especially since spring sports in 2020 lost out on their seasons because of the pandemic.


“I believe this is a better scenario for all athletes,” Retz said. “We may only coach our own respective sports, but this seems best for all athletes. Obviously we won’t have the indoor season in track and our meet schedule will change, but we are really excited to give athletes a chance to compete.”

Spring football
Guidance from the IHSA issued to athletic directors across the state indicate a six-game or seven-game regular season is possible in football, with games starting on March 5.

The status of statewide playoffs in the sport is in doubt, with IHSA executive director Craig Anderson saying on Wednesday to expect a possible regional-type postseason experience of one or two games.


“Obviously the weather conditions will be a little different in February and March as opposed to August and September,” Skinner said. “We have six months to prepare these kids from a strength standpoint, so we will see what that affords us to do. I think there’s still some unknowns as far as schedules and how practices will look. It’s certainly bringing a new sense of excitement. On one hand, we are now not going to have football in two weeks, but we have a brand-new challenge and experience waiting for us. That’s kind of what we prepare for in sports all the time. I know we will do everything in our power to be ready to go once February comes to us. Hopefully, we have a great first semester in the classroom and the weight room and hopefully by spring, we have some good news on where the virus is.”

Adjusting their plans
Like football, both SJO volleyball and SJO boys’ soccer won’t get the chance to start their seasons in the next month.


Veteran SJO volleyball coach Abby McDonald, who guided the Spartans to third place in Class 2A last November, said she realized as the pandemic continued that her team would have a modified schedule of some sort this upcoming school year.


“We were hopeful it would be postponed and not canceled,” McDonald said. “I’m thankful at this time that we can look forward to a season this spring.”


This summer, when the SJO volleyball team has gathered for workouts, their slogan has been constant: whatever it takes.


“We have remained positive about the future of our season and encouraged our athletes to do the same,” McDonald said. “We were willing to make the best of whatever the IHSA felt was necessary to ensure the safety of our athletes. Our kids did an outstanding job of following these guidelines while working hard and remaining positive throughout all the changes.” 


While McDonald said it will be an adjustment to coach in the spring compared to the fall, she is just glad she should have the opportunity to step into the gym with her team and compete at some point this school year.


“The fall is one of my favorite times of the year because I love the excitement of being back in the gym with our student-athletes,” McDonald said. “My primary focus, however, is that our players and families are able to remain healthy and safe. As much as I want to see our kids take the court, I want the manner in which we do so to be meaningful to our students, parents and community.”


Bill DeJarnette is back coaching the SJO boys’ soccer program again, a role he first held when the program started in 2009.


He, like McDonald, Skinner and Retz, said it’s better to have a season in the spring than no season at all.


“Logistically, the move will have some challenges since the training period starts mid-February and if early March is iffy, then being prepared to play will take careful planning to maximize the opportunities we get to train,” DeJarnette said. “Spring may pose some roster issues depending on athletes that hope to play soccer and then go right into a spring sport that will start immediately after.  We hoped to play and we were practicing with that in mind, but preparation always plays dividends. We will discuss the situation and evaluate our opportunities. The team that makes the most of opportunities given instead of worrying about what is lost will be successful in the long run.”

Final thoughts
Skinner, a proponent of pushing football to the spring once it became clear the pandemic would be here for a while, said he didn’t quite know what to expect before Wednesday’s announcement.


“I had heard so many different scenarios,” he said. “Ultimately we needed a plan that provided all student-athletes in all sports an opportunity to play this year. I believe that this plan at least provides that, and I think the IHSA did what they thought was going to work within the guidelines provided to them from our Governor and Health Departments.”


The fact Franzen can start to formulate schedules, ones that will likely be altered from ones that were set in place for this upcoming school year before the pandemic struck, is a welcome relief.


Especially after seeing spring sports canceled earlier this year.


“There is hope we can play every sport during the school year, and if that happens, then I cannot wait to watch our kids compete at a high level,” Franzen said. “I know our kids know this, but we have to stay focused and ready for our time to compete whenever it is during the school year. Our kids have been very patient, and I am confident when we are allowed to compete in any sport, that we will be ready.”

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