Maine South football players rally in response to delay of fall sports

Maine South football players hold up signs at the ‘Let Us Play’ rally to support the return of fall sports back to their regular season. The protest was held on Aug. 24, from 10-11 a.m., at the Thompson Center in Chicago. (Photo by Joe Kinnavy)

By Amalia Laskaris, Editor-in-chief

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor J.B. Pritzker decided to shut down fall sports that were assessed to be high risk for Covid transmission. Some of these sports included football, hockey, lacrosse, wrestling, competitive cheer, and dance. 

As a result, the Illinois High School Association has modified the 2020-2021 season schedule, which now consists of four shortened seasons. Sports that were declared by the Illinois Department of Public Health to be at a high or medium risk were moved to the spring or summer season. However, this has not been without controversy, as some athletes rely on these seasons to receive athletic scholarships.

The sad part was that the state government took control of the entire process and had zero communication with the IHSA about high school sports,” head football coach Mr. Dave Inserra said. “As people started to talk and ask questions, this at least got the two organizations to communicate a little bit. Personally, I hope the Governor’s Office has not made a decision about sports for the rest of the year.”

 In response to the new schedule, and Pritzker’s ultimate decision to enforce it, many protests have taken place within the past month. The “Let Us Play” movement has gained popularity across states where governors refuse to lift the ban on fall high school sports. On Saturday, Aug. 19, from 10-11 a.m., Coach Inserra and some of his players from the football team traveled to downtown Chicago to join the Let Us Play rally. A similar protest was also held that same afternoon at the Lincoln statue in Springfield, Illinois. 

“I heard about this protest through Coach Inserra,” senior football player Joe Kinnavy said. “I’ve never gone to a protest before, but I thought that if we all went, it would make a bigger impact than just a few of us.”

The goal of the protest was to encourage Pritzker to allow fall sports, particularly football, to play during their regular fall season. According to the Chicago Sun Times, an estimated 400-500 protestors, including parents, players, and coaches from all suburbs, gathered at the Thompson Center to rally against Pritzker’s decision. 

“The object is not always to get your way, but at least to stand and be heard,” Coach Inserra said. “This generation of millenials has seen first hand how protests can achieve positives and negatives. I am proud of our players for standing up for their rights.”

Rallygoers were encouraged to wear masks and dress in their school jerseys or colors. Speakers such as St. Lawrence volleyball player Ella Woltman, Kenwood football player Myles Mooyoung, state representative Darren Bailey, retired Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz, social worker Adam Russo and others attacked the politicians who have delayed the players’ season.

“One of the speakers claimed that the teen suicide rate increased 37% since the lockdown,” junior Frank Bartell said.There are more people dying from depression, anxiety, and other reasons than COVID-19.” 

Although there was a decent turnout, Kinnavy expected a better outcome. Players from Hillcrest, Antioch, Glenbrook North, Maine South, New Trier, Vernon Hills, St. Charles North, St. Francis and Naperville Central attended the protest, but the absence of city schools such as Mount Carmel, Simeon, and Phillips was notable.

“The Chicago Sun Times called the turnout underwhelming, so that put a damper on my attitude,” Kinnavy said. “I have not noticed any change, and I do not think our governor is eager to let us play right now.”

Nevertheless, athletes continue to argue that playing their sport is needed for their physical and mental well-being, and the governor’s decision to postpone their season is affecting their health. 

“The administrators, coaches and parents want what is best for their children,” Coach Inserra said. “Outdoor sports have been a safe and effective escape for many.”

In addition to this, other Midwestern states have permitted their fall sports to return back to their original schedules. For example, Michigan recently overturned their decision to have fall sports play in the spring. Despite the precedent for reversing delayed seasons, Illinois remains the only Midwest state which does not have an earlier return date for fall sports.

“At first, I was fine with playing in the spring, as that was what a lot of other states were doing,” Kinnavy said. “But over time, the states around us began flipping their decisions. This made me optimistic at first, but seeing the governor’s response has dwindled my hope for fall sports.”

While Coach Inserra understands both sides of the argument, he feels that if protocols are followed, the benefits to student-athletes of playing their sports outweigh any risks. Inserra believes that with proper trust from our school and staff, fall sports can be carried out.

“Administrators, coaches, parents and players have proven, if proper guidelines are followed, there is almost no chance of COVID being spread on the field of play, especially outdoors,” Coach Inserra said. “Maine South has done a great job of setting and following criteria to minimize the risk. The problems seem to occur away from the field, and for this, we all have to be safer and adhere to the guidelines more stringently.”

As for players, Bartell yearns for a return to normalcy.

“I hope, along with my whole team, that we will be able to get back to school in the classroom and back onto the field for football in the fall, not the spring,” Bartell said.

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