COVID sidelines fall sports tryouts


Michelle Bibbey

OPRF Junior Liam Spillane tees off at a recent match

This August, OPRF students tried out for six different school sports teams. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these athletic programs, and their tryouts, looked significantly different. Students and coaches have had to adapt and make changes, including implementing new measures to avoid spreading the coronavirus, and, in some cases, cutting people for the first time.
Only six of the usual 12 sports are happening this fall, says Athletic Director John Stelzer. Those sports are boys and girls golf, boys and girls cross-country, girls tennis, and girls swimming and diving. Boys football, boys soccer, girls field hockey, girls volleyball, drill team, and cheerleading have all been postponed to later in the school year by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA).
Some sports changed from no-cut tryouts to cutting athletes from the team for the first time in their history, such as Boys Cross Country. Please here explain quickly why we need to make cuts — it’s obvious to me but just for the sake of clarity.
“Because of everything going on with COVID, we’ve had to make cuts to limit our numbers for our program this year,” Coach Chris Baldwin said. Baldwin noted that more people tried out this year than normal, but not by a massive amount. He also expressed that he does not want boys cross country to continue cutting people.
Eamon Cavanaugh, a senior on the Boys Cross Country team said despite the changes, they will continue making sure the team is a “ place for everyone.” “Cross country [is] a great team sport, and we always want as many guys on the team as we can [have].”
This fall, teams have had to follow other specific protocols to reduce risk for the spread of COVID-19. Bill Young, the head coach of the Boys Varsity Golf team, said that the team has to take precautions, including mask-wearing and social distancing. On top of these precautions, the team is not allowed to play against teams outside of their conference.
“A lot of these on-course protocols the kids have had to play all summer with, so they’ve become accustomed to that,” said Young.
Young said another change for this season of sports is the inability to have a crowd. “We are not allowed to have spectators at any of our events,” Young said. “That’s definitely a noticeable difference, because we’d have a lot of parents come out and walk the course with their kids, and that’s definitely missing this year.”
Nathan Bibbey, a junior on the boys varsity golf team, said, “Our (team) is just dealing with the precautions because we know it’s the right thing to do.”
Even though the situation is not ideal for the golf team, many kids are still grateful to be able to play. “The boys have been really compliant with it, (and are) exceeding my expectations,” Young said. “We’re all very happy and grateful that we’re able to play, and obviously we want to take all the precautions we can to make sure we can avoid any type of infection because the stakes are pretty high, and if one of the kids does get infected, well that could really impact the team.”
As for Boys Cross Country, the team has been split into groups. Team members must wear masks, but when they are running six feet apart, they can take their masks down. Baldwin noted that having three different groups doing different things daily is a challenge. They also are only competing in dual meets, as opposed to normally having both dual meets and invites with more teams. “The IHSA is not planning on having a state meet, which is obviously very different,” Baldwin said. However, the IHSA is planning regional and sectional meets.
Even with the mandated precautions, Cavanaugh is simply thankful for the opportunity to have a season.
“I’m really happy with not only what has been laid out for us and the guidelines we’re supposed to follow, but how the guys have been following (them) really well, and how the coaches have been holding us to (them),” he said. “We’re really blessed this year to have some kind of an opportunity to get out there… so we want to make sure we’re good stewards of that opportunity, because obviously not everyone has that.”