Coronavirus forces high school athletes to play waiting game

The Illinois High School Association has put all sports on hold, but has not canceled the playoffs yet.

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Senior Jack Burns is a standout middle distance runner for Lane, which has the fastest indoor time in the 1,600-meter relay in Class 3A this season.

Senior Jack Burns is a standout middle distance runner for Lane, which has the fastest indoor time in the 1,600-meter relay in Class 3A this season.


Kyler Brown hopes that his last baseball season isn’t over before it started.

The St. Charles North senior is headed to Minnesota-Duluth to play football, but he’s also a key veteran back from last year’s Class 4A baseball runners-up.

When all Illinois schools were ordered closed and all prep sports canceled until at least April 7 in an attempt to slow the coronavirus pandemic, the news hit hard.

“It all came up very quickly,” said Brown, whose team’s Florida trip was among the events called off. “My initial reaction was not to panic because that would only make things worse.”

The timing of the shutdown stung for another reason. St. Charles North’s boys basketball team advanced to the McHenry Sectional final before the IHSA canceled the rest of the state playoffs.

“After seeing my best friends’ basketball season cut short, it only made it worse,” Brown said. “But I still have a ton of hope that we will resume action and I will be able to go on another run with my brothers.”

The IHSA released another update on Wednesday, reiterating spring competition remains on hold for now. “We are considering an extension of the spring sports season limitation to provide more participation opportunities for students,” the statement said. “This may include movement of the postseason timelines and State Series.”

That would be fine with Taft senior Sydney Partyka, an Indiana State track recruit who — like other Public League athletes — is facing an unexpected break for the second time this school year. CPS athletes were idled by a Chicago Teachers Union strike last fall, with Partyka and other cross country runners needing a judge’s order to compete in the sectionals after missing the regional meets.

Now, the state track and field meets scheduled for late May in Charleston are in jeopardy.

“I don’t mind,” Partyka said of the possibility of running in a delayed girls state finals. “I’ll race in August or something. It’s nice this time they’re [considering] pushing it back.”

Partyka was sidelined by an injury earlier this week, but had been training for several months in addition to competing in indoor meets.

“The thing that sucks is it’s sometimes hard to get motivation to run,” she said. “I’ll have to run for like an hour and I’ll be getting bored.”

But if there is a spring season, however short, Partyka will be ready. Ditto for Lane senior Jack Burns, another cross country runner whose state dreams were derailed by the strike.

“That was pretty rough,” said Burns, who was one of the Indians’ top runners last fall. “Up until like the night before the sectional, the word was, ‘No, we are not able to run.’”

Burns was in Kenosha, Wis., for a college visit and had to scramble back into race mode with just a few hours’ notice.

“We were happy we got to run,” He said. “But I, for one, was unprepared and paid for that the next day.”

“He should have made state,” Lane boys cross country and track coach Kris Roof said of Burns, who was Lane’s fifth man at the sectional.

Burns and other track and field athletes won’t be competing in the Illinois Top Times Indoor Championships, either. That unofficial indoor state meet, scheduled for this weekend in Bloomington, was another casualty of the coronavirus cancellations.

Now Burns is hoping he doesn’t get sidelined for yet another state meet. A middle distance specialist whose college short list includes Drake and Indiana State, he is part of the Indians’ 1,600-meter relay team that has the fastest indoor time in Class 3A this year.

That’s just one area of strength for the Indians, for whom a lost season would be especially painful.

“We’re expecting to win one or two events at state,” Roof said. “This is probably the best team we’ve had.”

Mather boys track coach Joe Sullivan feels the same about his team, which he hopes will have a chance to prove it.

“If there’s no practice, we kind of lose them to the wind,” Sullivan said. “But the motivated ones are working [on their own]. ... We thought the strike was the worst thing. But this is a lot worse than that.”

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