Safety first as elementary, high school sports adapt to changing guidelines

Schlarman Academy’s Capria Brown is cheered by teammates and fans after a steal early in the Hilltoppers’ state championship win in 2019. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The girls basketball team from Schlarman Academy in Danville won state championships in 2018 and 2019. Whether the Hilltoppers — or any sports teams in Catholic schools across the diocese — will have the opportunity to showcase their skills or bring home trophies in 2020-2021 is still being determined.

“I hope that we will have sports, but we’re obviously going to do what we think is best for the health and the safety of the children first,” said Eric Crist, athletic director at Schlarman. “We’ll go from there.”

Eric Crist, athletic director, Schlarman Academy in Danville.

Crist and other athletic directors and coaches have been kept busy in recent weeks as both the Illinois High School Association and the Illinois Elementary School Association have issued guidelines and plans that include condensed seasons and the moving of some fall sports — including football, girls volleyball, and boys soccer at the high school level — to spring.

“To say it’s a bit overwhelming is an understatement,” said Crist, who oversees the academy’s junior high and high school teams. “Since I left work last night I have 60 emails to read,” he said Aug. 7, noting many of them had to do with revised schedules. Last year’s state champion girls’ basketball team, for example, finished with a record of 33-2. Crist expects only about 15 games to be played in this winter’s condensed schedule, all within the Danville region. There may only be a regional championship instead of a state tournament.

How grade and high school sports can be attended is up to the guidance of local health departments and the diocese. Some outdoor sports are easier for fans to be socially distanced.

Catholic school students in the diocese opting for online-only study will not be able to participate in fall sports. Should it become necessary for schools to revert to online-only learning, Crist said sports would likely be cancelled. He obviously hopes that doesn’t happen.

Sports and other extracurricular activities provide opportunities for students to grow as individuals outside the classroom, Crist told The Catholic Post. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, what your background is, you have one common goal,” he said, noting how sports builds leadership and other life skills.

“Our kids are excited to play,” he said. “They’ve been great, and the coaches have gone well above and beyond in making sure everyone stays safe.”

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