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CPS starts fall sports practices under strict COVID-19 guidelines

Chicago Public Schools runners have likely dealt with more turmoil than any other high school athletes in the country over the past year. 

Lane cross-country runners during practice on August 19, 2020.
Lane cross-country runners during practice on August 19, 2020.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Lane senior Theo Canji was excited to be back practicing with his cross-country team on Wednesday, but there is no way to fully escape from COVID-19 concerns.

“I’m worried,” Canji said. “I really don’t want to give COVID to my parents. We try to keep our distance and wear our masks. The danger is very real and present and something that I think about a lot.

“We run in a small group of seven and we’ve been training together since it all started. So I feel like when we are alone in our group working out it is a little bit less of a concern. But around all these other people that I have never seen before it is a little different.”

Chicago Public Schools runners have likely dealt with more turmoil than any other high school athletes in the country over the last year.

The cross-country season was cut short before last fall due to the Chicago Teachers Union strike. Then track was canceled in the spring because of COVID-19. The last few months they’ve had to wait and see if there would be a cross-country season this fall.

CPS delayed the start of fall sports practices for 10 days after the rest of the state, but things finally got started on Wednesday. Cross country, golf, girls tennis and girls swimming teams began practicing under strict new protocols established by CPS.

“The requirements are very substantial,” Lane coach Kris Roof said. “We have to do a daily form, which is two pages, for each kid. So the coaches and volunteers are doing the temperature check and asking the questions on the form. It’s a lengthy process.”

More than 300 students showed up for the first day of cross-country practice at Lane.

“Spirits are high with the kids,” Roof said. “We’ve had maybe a half dozen opt-outs so far and we fully support their decision. Some have immune compromised family members. We are just going to do the best we can.”

State regulations will limit meets to just 50 people. In past seasons, Lane’s cross-country meets could have more than 1,000 people in attendance.

“We are being creative with the timing,” Roof said. “We’ll have 42 kids in a race, have them cool down elsewhere and go home. Start another race. We are committed to two Saturdays at Bunker Hill where we will set up a timer all day to provide schools an opportunity to get their meets in. We’ll just play it by ear and hope we don’t get shut down. But we all know that is a very real possibility.”

All the new rules and protocols have helped ease concerns for Lane senior Fiona Glascott.

“It makes me feel more comfortable that they have really thought about it and it is planned out,” Glascott said. “I’m just excited to run and see how it goes.”

CPS runners missed out on state events in track last season. And it is unlikely there will be state championships for fall sports this season. City championships are more possible, since all CPS schools are in the same COVID region. But nothing is certain.

“I was pretty unsure anything was going to happen this fall,” Lane senior Sophia Rivera said. “They kept saying we were going to have practice and then it would get postponed.”

“My goals are to make it to state, to win city,” Lane senior Declan Toomey said. “If any of that happens. But we just don’t know. I don’t want the season to get shut down. But if it happens I know it is for the safety of everyone so we can all get past this.”

Lane’s boys team is stocked with talented upperclassmen and Roof has been impressed with the freshmen runners on the girls team.

“They’ve been running together during the summer,” Roof said. “Some are from neighborhood schools so we have known who they are. That’s never really happened for us. We don’t have a feeder program. No CPS school really does. So that has been a nice surprise.”