Time to stop canceling high school sports


Wrestlers set to square off in a recent match at Mt. Carmel High School.

It’s a hot, humid July day. Football training camp is underway at Mount Carmel High School. A junior transfer student has enjoyed his first two weeks of the Caravan football experience. After having the national wrestling championships canceled, it is nice to have a sense of normalcy, and a chance to compete. However, after practice is finished, Head Coach Jordan Lynch informs the team that the season was canceled. The IHSA and IDPH have already had extremely strict guidelines in place. However, it is apparently not enough, and the call was made for the state of Illinois not to play football in the fall. The team is devastated, missing the opportunity to repeat as state champions. 

Although a season eventually happened in the spring, it can hardly be called that, being only six games with no postseason whatsoever. 

This was the summer of 2020. High school extracurricular events are still being canceled, and they absolutely should not be.

There is a great negative impact on high schoolers that have their events canceled, which far outweighs the potential for high schoolers to be put at risk. While the initial reasoning given by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker back in the fall of 2020 was that if pro sports players are catching Covid, youth sports will spread it worse. “When the multi-billion dollar sports leagues are struggling to protect their players, it’s obvious there won’t be enough protection for kids on our school playing fields,” said Pritzker. “This virus is unrelenting and it spreads so easily that no amount of restrictions seems to keep it off of the playing field or out of the locker room.” It is true that many students have spread around the virus, but that number is growing smaller on average.

However, the spread of the virus among teens is not an issue. The rate of deaths per case is 0.014% in people from ages 12-17 (537 deaths in 3.7 million cases). Since the danger of high schoolers dying from Covid is so infinitesimal, it is foolish to cancel sporting events over something with such a small mortality rate.

A counter-argument may be that the spread of Covid would possibly hurt people in categories with a higher mortality rate than that of students of high school age. However, the people who are at risk know that they are more likely to be seriously harmed by covid. Therefore, it is their responsibility to be careful about who they come into contact with. It is completely their decision if they want to go near a high school athlete who may have a higher chance of having covid. The people who are at risk should be able to decide for themselves what risks they want to take, and people as a whole should be able to choose whether or not they put themselves at risk of catching covid.

“This is the worst,” said former Caravan wrestler Robert Bowman ‘21 in response to being informed that the IHSA canceled the 2020-2021 winter wrestling season.

For the 2020-2021 school year, the IHSA decided that they would classify sports into three categories: lower-risk, medium-risk, and higher-risk. These categories were based on factors such as contact, distance from opponents, duration of events, and whether or not masks could be worn while competing. 

All higher-risk and some medium-risk sports had their 2020-2021 seasons pushed back, leading to many inevitable cancellations. Football, wrestling, and a few other sports were pushed back from fall and winter to spring and summer. Even after pushing the seasons back, the IHSA felt the need to shorten the seasons of certain sports, cutting football from fourteen weeks of competition to six, and allowing wrestling to only compete in dual meets, no tournaments, and no state series. 

The timing of the seasons also forced student-athletes to choose priority over sports that did not previously conflict. Some wrestlers had to choose between wrestling or playing baseball. Even the wrestlers who did not play baseball or another spring sport had scheduling conflicts with non-IHSA events. Because Illinois was the only state that pushed wrestling back, many had to choose between wrestling for their school or going to national events that are held in the summer. 

Some football players graduated a semester early and missed the spring season entirely. Mount Carmel had multiple players do this, and it was even more common in public schools. Furthermore, Illinois athletes had a very difficult time being recruited in competition with athletes from other states who had a regular season. As a result, many student-athletes went so far as to leave the state. This included Mount Carmel junior Sergio Lemley, who wrestled at Chesterton High School, in Northwest Indiana. Students fled Illinois for Iowa, Missouri, and Indiana. One wrestler even moved from Lemont to Oklahoma City. Cancellations of individual events, while not as catastrophic to an athlete’s recruiting, can still lead to many missed opportunities for an athlete to be seen.

There is no consistent reasoning behind what is canceled and what is not and it is oftentimes completely nonsensical.

Teams are forbidden from competing one day, but are fine to travel and compete the next. On Wednesday, January 5, 2022, the Caravan wrestling team was scheduled to head to Providence Catholic for a triangular meet, also wrestling Loyola Academy. However, during first period of that school day, the wrestling team was informed that their meet was canceled due to one caravan athlete testing positive. They could still practice after school, and only two wrestlers who were practice partners with the positive student were sent home to be tested. However, the team was allowed to travel the very next day to Montini Catholic to compete in a quadrangular meet. Essentially nothing changed, so clearly if the team could compete on the 6th, there was no good reason for them to be unable to compete on the 5th. Even though it was known before the end of the school day January 5th that the two practice partners were Covid negative.

Some teams have been not allowed to compete because of only one case, while other teams were allowed with multiple positive cases. 

For example, the MacArthur Generals football team, out of Decatur, IL, went 4-5 during the 2021 fall season with Covid forfeits in Weeks 2 and 3, had only one positive case on the team. “It really hurt us because it was just one player but we had close contact and so we had to shut it down,” said MacArthur quarterback Brylan Phillips. The Generals missed the playoffs by one win.

Different states and schools have different regulations, and some schools even have regulations for different sports.

Since the reasoning behind sports being canceled is inconsistent, it is illogical for some sporting events to be canceled but not others.

Illinois is the only state in the midwest to not have regular sports last school year.

Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, and most other midwestern states had regular seasons. Since wrestling is in the highest risk category, and wrestlers are not required to wear masks, it is obvious that if the sport most likely to spread Covid can happen on schedule in every midwestern state besides Illinois, it could’ve happened in Illinois too.

Only a select few states did not have regular seasons for all sports.

The politicization of the pandemic was likely not even that large of a factor in the decision for Illinois to cancel sporting events, since states with both Republican and Democrat governors and legislatures had regular sports seasons. 

The fact that only Illinois has canceled sporting events that surrounding states have not shows that the reasoning behind sports being canceled is faulty. 

The ways that people have been justifying cancellations of high school sports are illogical. Covid itself is not very dangerous to high school students. If you are worried about catching Covid, it is completely within your rights to stay home and not attend high school sporting events. Therefore, no high school sports should be canceled. The risk to the athletes is minimal, and it should be up to the choice of the individual. If you are worried about catching Covid at this point, you have every right to not participate in these events.

And so should the people who are willing to accept the risk that they might catch Covid be allowed to compete.