“More than just a game”: Student athletes march for their season

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) board met on Jan. 27 to determine what the high school athletics schedule will look like for the remainder of this school year and announced that winter, spring and summer sports will have a season. 

While there will be no state series for several sports — including basketball, football and wrestling — high-risk sports will still be allowed to practice and play games if their regions meet the stated health requirements. The status of spring sports state series, lost last year at the start of the pandemic, is still to be determined. 

While some fall sports deemed low-risk, like cross country, golf, girls swimming and girls tennis, were able to have an abbreviated season, the winter sports season has featured more restrictions and many fewer in-person practices. Some teams have only practiced virtually, if at all.

Many LHS athletes have been frustrated with the IHSA and their strict Covid-19 limitations on high school sports. In order to bring more attention to the desire student athletes have to play their sports, and in an attempt to help sway this week’s decision, senior Adam Pressley and other students organized a rally at Cook Memorial Park on Thursday, Jan. 26. 

Pressley, who plays football and tennis, expressed that “non-contact days [just] aren’t the same. We want to play with our buddies again.” 

By spreading information about the rally on social media, around 35 student-athletes and supporters gathered in the park. Standing on the steps of the Ansel B. Cook House were seniors Beckett Abington, Dylan McDonald, Black Ellington and Pressley.

Leading the group in cheers, as well as expressing the importance of continuing to follow social distancing guidelines, the four led the group in a march to the high school campus. Behind them were athletes wearing orange and black and holding Libertyville flags and posters. Drawing lots of attention with bells, megaphones and chants, the students received honks of support from drivers passing by. 

Senior Matthew Stokovich explained that the purpose of the rally was to “send a message to Governor Pritzker and the IHSA. We really want to show how much our athletic seasons mean to us, and how much [of] a difference they make in our lives.” 

Stokovich plays football and volleyball, and feels that by being able to play these sports again, he and his teams will be able to “express [themselves] through their athletics.”

The phrase “more than just a game” was spread through social media by student-athletes of many sports and was chanted throughout the entirety of the rally.

“[Football] is more than just a game, it’s a family,” said junior Nate Farmer. “I’ve been playing with a lot of these kids since I was 5 years old. This is going to be my last opportunity to play with half of them. It [just] means a lot.” 

Pressley expressed that sports are “everything we love and care about. They are our passion, and that’s why we want [them] back, and we want to do it right.”

Pressley is confident that playing sports right now is achievable: “We believe with everyone working together, we can be safe,” he said. “We will do this right, we will be safe and we will have our season.”