Chicago Sun-Times - - CENTER OF ATTENTION - BY MIKE CLARK | @mikeclarkp­reps

Illi­nois’ first high school sports sea­son in the COVID-19 era will be missing a lot. Sev­eral sports, in­clud­ing foot­ball, have been post­poned till spring. Re­lays in swim­ming are out. Big in­vi­ta­tion­als in cross-coun­try won’t hap­pen. Pa­per score­cards in golf have been re­placed by a vir­tual equiv­a­lent.

Given the al­ter­na­tives, how­ever, the pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude is the glass is half-full rather than half-empty.

“We’re really lucky we get to com­pete again,” Evanston se­nior swim­mer Erin Long said. “In the sum­mer, a lot of peo­ple were think­ing we weren’t go­ing to get a sea­son at all. We’re grate­ful that we’re get­ting what we get.”

Six sports will go on this fall: boys and girls cross-coun­try, boys and girls golf, girls ten­nis and girls swim­ming.

Some will look much the same as be­fore the pan­demic. Other than mark­ing balls to limit con­tact with op­po­nents, ten­nis will pro­ceed pretty much as usual.

Golf, so­cially dis­tanced by its na­ture, also re­quires few ad­just­ments. One is an IHSA re­quire­ment that play­ers wear masks ex­cept when play­ing a shot, and an­other is the switch to iWana­maker, a scor­ing app that re­places man­ual score­cards.

That means no more hud­dling around a score­board af­ter a match, wait­ing for re­sults to be posted.

“Kids keep score on their phones, they nod their heads [to op­po­nents] and we leave,” St. Vi­a­tor boys golf coach Jack Halpin said.

That part is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, too. In the past, the Lions would pile into vans for the ride home, of­ten with a stop for din­ner. Now Halpin has drafted par­ents to drive their sons to and from matches.

In Halpin’s mind, though, the safety ac­com­mo­da­tions are a small price to pay for the chance to keep play­ing.

“The only thing I have to say is this is a year like no other,” he said. “This is all about the kids get­ting bet­ter at the game of golf.”

Halpin said the Lions will be play­ing more smaller meets than their usual sched­ule of up to a dozen in­vi­ta­tion­als a year. That’s also the case for cross-coun­try, which will see more du­als and tri­an­gu­lars.

So­cial dis­tanc­ing can be a chal­lenge in that sport, and coaches are still sort­ing it out.

“Start­ing lines will be spaced out be­cause that’s the eas­i­est thing to con­trol,” St. Ig­natius girls cross-coun­try coach Ray Lewis said. “Run­ners are not tired; you can ma­nip­u­late where they start. The fin­ish line will be more tricky.”

Lewis doesn’t ex­pect to see mul­ti­ple fin­ish chutes, but, as with golf, there will be less milling around after­ward.

“I see a rep from each team in the chute area pulling their ath­letes in their di­rec­tion as quickly as pos­si­ble,” Lewis said.

One is­sue for some cross-coun­try teams is where to run with off-cam­pus venues such as for­est pre­serves not al­low­ing large gath­er­ings.

“Don’t be sur­prised if we see full meets run on the track,” Lewis said.

Neuqua Val­ley boys cross-coun­try coach Paul Van­der­steen is not a fan of that idea.

“To me, that kind of de­feats the pur­pose of so­cial dis­tanc­ing,” he said.

The Wild­cats will host sev­eral meets on cam­pus, but Van­der­steen re­vised the course to re­move choke points where run­ners might be more likely to bump el­bows while jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion.

One thing that hasn’t been de­cided is whether Neuqua Val­ley will al­low spec­ta­tors at meets, though Van­der­steen said there could be a drive-in op­tion, with par­ents watch­ing from their cars.

How to ac­com­mo­date fans is also an is­sue in swim­ming, the only fall sport be­ing con­tested in­doors.

Schools such as Evanston can have hun­dreds of fans in bleach­ers above the pool deck. But fac­tor­ing in the size of some ros­ters — the Wild­kits have more than 90 girls out this fall — and the need for so­cial dis­tanc­ing, the amount of us­able space shrinks sig­nif­i­cantly.

The so­lu­tion? Vir­tual meets with each team swim­ming in its own pool and com­par­ing times. Evanston girls swim­ming coach Kevin Auger has given some thought about how best to make it work.

He has cre­ated a com­puter pro­gram that can do live, com­bined re­sults from mul­ti­ple sites that would al­low com­peti­tors to see their plac­ings in real time.

“The other thing I’m do­ing — in­stead of just stream­ing the meet — is have the meet be a Google Meet,” Auger said.

That would al­low par­ents and other fans to cheer re­motely and be dis­played on the videoboard at the Wild­kits’ pool.

Auger and his swim­mers also have to be creative for work­outs be­cause of the big ros­ter. Prac­tices are in shifts to al­low for so­cial dis­tanc­ing, mean­ing some swim­mers rarely see their team­mates.

“We’re go­ing to be do­ing group Zooms with the full team, which I think will help bring us to­gether,” se­nior Sam Rhodes said. “Usu­ally, we have a bunch of din­ners and team-bond­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, which we won’t be able to do this year.

“But we’re go­ing to do our best just to do some­thing.” ✶

“In the sum­mer, a lot of peo­ple were think­ing we weren’t go­ing to get a sea­son at all. We’re grate­ful that we’re get­ting what we get.”

Erin Long, evanston se­nior swim­mer

“We’re go­ing to be do­ing group Zooms with the full team, which I think will help bring us to­gether.” Sam Rhodes, evanston se­nior swim­mer


Evanston’s Erin Long swims at prac­tice Wed­nes­day.


Evanston girls swim­ming coach Kevin Auger cre­ated a com­puter pro­gram that can show com­peti­tors com­bined re­sults from mul­ti­ple sites in real time.


Evanston’s Sam Rhodes works on her stroke dur­ing prac­tice Wed­nes­day.

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