Football coaches around the state have organized a Let Us Play movement to try and convince Gov. J.B. Pritzker to change course and allow fall sports.
The group will hold rallies at the Thompson Center in Chicago and the state capitol in Springfield on Saturday.
Every state that borders Illinois is playing football this fall. Only golf, girls tennis, cross-country and girls swimming and diving are currently happening in Illinois.
“When Michigan decided to reverse course and play that changed a lot but we’ve been saying all along to let the kids play,” Richards football coach Tony Sheehan said. “They are just devastated that they aren’t out there playing. When you see the other states playing and not having any issues it is hard.”
Pritzker released a set of restrictions on high school and youth sports on July 29.
“These are incredibly important moments in the lives of our children,” Pritzker said. “When the multi-billion-dollar sports leagues with multi-million-dollar athletes are struggling to protect their players it is obvious there won’t be enough protection for kids on our school’s playing fields.”
There has been no indication that Pritzker has changed his mind, despite a rash of other states and governors changing course and allowing high school football.
Sheehan said 75-80 coaches have been involved in a series of Zoom calls to organize the protest.
“We are hoping for a big crowd,” Sheehan said. “There are a lot of coaches getting the word out. We are hoping for as many people as possible to come out and support it. We just want the kids to get back to some sort of normal.”
The Illinois High School Association announced on Friday that it sent a letter to Pritzker asking for permission for the IHSA “to resume control over determining the resumption of IHSA sports and activities.”
However, the IHSA did not say if it supported a resumption of high school sports. In the same announcement the IHSA said that “there have been no discussions, let alone proposed timelines, for resuming any sports at this time.”
The IHSA and the governor are allowing teams across the state to practice this month under specific COVID-19 guidelines. However, Chicago Public Schools isn’t even allowing that.
“With the support of the Office of Student Health and Wellness, we made this decision with the health, safety and welfare of our student-athletes and coaches in mind,” CPS Sports Director David Rosengard wrote in an email to principals and athletic directors.
That makes it seem unlikely that CPS would allow fall sports even if the governor changed his mind.
IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson released the following statement on the planned rallies:
“It has been our goal since the pandemic began to return IHSA sports and activities as soon as it was safe to do so. We are deeply aware of the positive mental and physical benefits that participation has on high school students in Illinois. I do not know what, if any, impact these protests will have on that process, but I respect the right of the attendees to do so, and their desire to advocate for themselves. The current data in our state shows that Governor Pritzker and his team have done a tremendous job in combating COVID-19. However, I understand the frustration our students and coaches feel from seeing other states participate in sports like volleyball and football while we are on the sidelines here. Extracurricular participation teaches us life lessons about both joy and disappointment. No matter the result of these protests, we will take some solace in knowing our current plan will offer students participation in all IHSA sports and activities during the 2020-21 school year. If state officials allow us to reconsider that model, we will perform due diligence in reevaluating our schedules and timelines. We appreciate the passion of the attendees, and ask that they be safe, smart, and respectful when they assemble this weekend.”