Chicago protest: Students rally in Loop asking Pritzker to bring back fall sports

IHSA, IDPH discussing possible safety plans amid COVID-19 concerns, sources say

ByAlexis McAdams WLS logo
Sunday, September 20, 2020
Students protest in Loop, asking Pritzker to bring back fall sports
Student-athletes protested in Chicago's Loop and in Springfield Saturday, asking Gov. JB Pritzker to bring back fall sports.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Student-athletes rallied outside the Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop Saturday, as well as in the state capital of Springfield, asking Gov. JB Pritzker to work with the Illinois High School Association to bring back fall sports.

The student-led protests demanded the return of athletic activities.

In Illinois, contact sports have been pushed back to the spring over fears of COVID-19, but they are happening now in many other states.

Local athletes say they are ready to get back in action.

"We want to have the chance to play some games in the fall. Get some guys that need tapes, and for the better of our team and the mental health of some players," said Braden Rutledge with the Naperville Central High School football team.

On Friday, the IHSA Sports Medicine Committee spoke with the Illinois Department of Public Health about the return of fall sports after many students, coaches and parents asked them to continue talks about the upcoming season.

"The one thing you haven't heard the governor say is that there will absolutely not be additional fall sports," said Joe Trost, an advocate for student-athletes. "He hasn't said that everything will be pushed to next spring. There's been conversations going on behind-the-scenes with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the IHSA Sports Medicine Committee. ... They've been having communication throughout the week."

Many of those who organized the protests said they hope the governor takes notice of the rallies, which they say will continue.

"Show him that we can be safe while doing this. We can wear the masks. We just want to be happy and we want to get out there," said Lincoln-Way East High School cheerleader Sophia Sladek.

RELATED: Orland Park rallies to demand return of fall sports, in-person learning

Orland Park is the latest suburb to hold a rally demanding the return of fall sports and in-person classes, despite the governor's insistence it's not safe.

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike spoke with the IHSA Board about its safety plan for those sports, including football, soccer and volleyball, sources have said.

The IDPH is looking over the IHSA's return-to-play guidelines for each sport, which the IHSA Sports Medicine Committee put together.

Pritzker said that even though other states are allowing high school football and other contact sports, his scientific advisers, including Chicago doctors, said the risk for spreading COVID-19 is still too high.

But advocates remain hopeful.

"We practiced for eight weeks in the summertime, and we have been practicing and lifting for the last month and we have not had a case on the team," said Naperville Central Football Coach Eric Novak.

RELATED: Hinsdale South High School football player tests positive for COVID-19, football program shut down for 2 weeks

Hinsdale South High School officials confirmed a student in its football program has tested positive for COVID-19.

High school coaches say they were using safe protocol all summer and believe they have the resources in place to continue.

"We see football is going on around us and we just want to know why? Why we can not go right now," said Tremaine Weaver, Assistant Head Coach for Hillcrest football. "We understand the pandemic and know we have to be cautious and we are ready to do those things...We went to the whole summer with no COVID incidents."

Students are asking state leaders to get to the table and look at what surrounding Midwestern states are doing, and what 80% of the U.S. is doing on and off the field.

"I am really jealous," Rutledge said. "All I want to do right now is play and we all just want to do that and so we hope the governor gives us a chance."

Minnesota is expected to reinstate all fall sports on Monday. If that happened, Illinois would be one of only 11 states not playing this fall.

Along with Saturday's rally, a group of parents are also reportedly in the process of filing a lawsuit against the governor and the IHSA, hoping legal action could help the process of bringing back sports.