Masked athletes hit the hardwood on Feb. 1 for varsity basketball tryouts at Riverside-Brookfield High School. If suburban Cook County moves into Phase 4 of the Reopen Illinois plan, games for the pandemic-shortened season would begin this month. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

High school sports in Illinois are slowly emerging from a pandemic that caused a winter slumber. Last week the Illinois High School Association allowed interscholastic competition to begin in what are classified as low-risk sports and allowed some moderate and high-risk sports teams to begin practicing.

Interscholastic competition is now permitted in badminton, boys swimming, girls gymnastics, competitive cheerleading and poms. 

Boys and girls basketball teams are allowed to practice but cannot yet play games. Basketball tryouts commenced Monday at Riverside-Brookfield High School.

“We can practice right now; we can go full contact, but we can’t play games,” said RBHS varsity boys basketball coach Mike Reingruber.

The RBHS badminton team will start the resumption of sports with a match against Timothy Christian in Riverside on Wednesday afternoon. It is not yet clear if any fans will be allowed to attend the match or other sporting events.

“We are currently working through that,” said Assistant Principal for Athletics Brendan Curtin in a text message on Monday. “It is unlikely we’ll have spectators. Numerous factors at play.”

The state rules currently allow 25 spectators to attend sporting events in areas under Tier 1 mitigations, which is where suburban Cook County found itself on Feb. 1. If suburban Cook County is able to move to Phase 4 of the governor’s Reopen Illinois plan – which was expected to happen as early as Feb. 2 — 50 spectators would be allowed.

All athletes, except for gymnasts and swimmers, will have to wear face masks while competing, something basketball players trying to adapt to. Reingruber said that there wasn’t much complaining about masks last week when unofficial workouts were allowed to resume.

“Although not ideal, they’re willing to deal with it,” Reingruber said. “Once they’re out there competing that’s all they’re thinking about.”

Teams are required to have seven days of practice before competition. Interscholastic competition in higher risk sports such as basketball will not be allowed until suburban Cook County moves to Phase 4. The basketball season, once it starts, will be a short one ending on March 24. There will be no state tournament in basketball or other winter sports.

Spring sports, however, might have state championship tournaments.

“It appears that the IHSA is trying to explore those opportunities for the spring sports that did not get to participate in that last year,” Curtin said.

Football, which was scrapped last fall, will be a spring sport this year, if it is played at all. Football teams are allowed, pandemic conditions permitting, to begin practicing on March 3 and games could begin on March 19. 

Contact days — unofficial voluntary workouts for football — can start this week. The football season would be six weeks long and end April 24 with no state playoffs. RBHS would only play conference opponents in football.

Masked athletes hit the hardwood on Feb. 1 for varsity basketball tryouts at Riverside-Brookfield High School. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

Most traditional spring sports would start in March or April and end in May or June. Sports such as baseball, track, lacrosse, girls soccer, boys tennis and boys volleyball are scheduled to start April 5 and the season would end on June 19, a few weeks later than normal. 

Wrestling, another winter sport that had been postponed, could begin on April 19 and end on June 12. Girls volleyball, which was not allowed in the fall, would shift to spring this year starting on March 8 and ending on April 24 without a state tournament.

With some sports, such as football and baseball, having overlapping schedules, it is not yet clear if athletes will be able to compete in two sports at the same time.

“Multisport athletes will be encouraged to participate in as many activities as the IHSA will allow,” Curtin said. “Everybody within the athletic department here at RBHS understands that there’s value in having multisport athletes. 

Varsity head coach Mike Reingruber, middle, watches players participate on Feb. 1, 2021, during varsity basketball tryouts at Riverside Brookfield High School. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

“We certainly want them to have that opportunity. There is some carryover or overlap within the athletic seasons and I would hope that the IHSA will allow schools to navigate that to the best of their abilities and allow those students to participate in as many athletics as they wish.”

There have been no high school sports in Illinois since the beginning of November, although many other states have allowed high school sports to be played. Last fall only a few lower risk sports, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, and girls swimming were allowed to have limited seasons without state tournaments.

Curtin, who is also head football coach at RBHS, is happy that sports are getting the go ahead to start up again.

“We’re certainly excited,” said Curtin, who described himself as cautiously optimistic that sports seasons will last. “We feel like we’re trending in the right direction. We have some sports that up and running, and hopefully we can use that for momentum and move forward and get all of our student athletes an opportunity to participate and compete.”

Masked athletes hit the hardwood on Feb. 1 for varsity basketball tryouts at Riverside-Brookfield High School. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

For Reingruber, a hard-core basketball junkie who has coached or played basketball every winter for more than 30 years, it was strange to spend those months away from the hardwood.

“I’m not a person that sits around. I’m always on the go, so it’s been tough,” Reingruber said. “I’m glad to finally get out there.”

Reingruber said he is hoping that the rate of coronavirus infections continues to fall and allow basketball to have a season this year. 

“I just hope by opening restaurants and opening things back up it doesn’t make things spike,” Reingruber said.

During the cold, dark days and nights of December and January without basketball Reingruber said he was on an emotional rollercoaster.

“I always thought at some point there would be a season,” Reingruber said. “Quite honestly, I thought it was going to be moved to May and June. I’m happy they’re giving the kids an opportunity now and we’ll see how it all shakes out.”