Several teams glad to get together for conditioning
You've never seen a group of football players more excited about conditioning at seven in the morning.
But there they were, more than 100 happy faces at Naperville North finally together for the first time in months. Even if it was only for basic, non-sport specific drills, Monday represented a key step in returning to play after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports in March.
"I was kind of worried about whether or not we'd be able to get back out there," said Naperville North senior football player Nick Grace. "It was great being with everyone again. We're really focused on getting back on the football field."
Late last week the Naperville District 203 school board approved the submitted conditioning plans from Naperville Central and Naperville North, allowing both schools to bring back their athletes under strict safety conditions. Athletes in several sports arrived at set times to make sure not too many people congregated together.
Other area schools that returned Monday for conditioning were Barrington, Batavia, Benet and Glenbrook North. More schools plan to hit the fields later this week.
No athlete is allowed to participate without a temperature check. They also need to answer questions about their health and bring their own water bottles.
Ten or fewer athletes are allowed to participate per workout pod. On Naperville North's practice fields, more than a dozen pods of 4,000 square feet apiece were spaced 30 feet apart.
No sports equipment, including balls, are allowed during Stage 1 of the IHSA's return-to-play guidelines. Regardless, the excitement of being together overcame any frustration about restrictions.
"I thought I might have trouble getting up that early but I was so excited I didn't even need my alarm," said Naperville Central senior football player Aidan Ellison. "I had so much adrenaline going. It was awesome to be back out there."
The IHSA board of directors announced Monday that the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee's blueprint for Stage 2 of the return-to-play plan was submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health for approval.
The IHSA said its plan aligns with Phase 4 of the state's Restore Illinois guidelines. The plan is also expected to correspond with the NFHS Phase 2 guidelines that include larger gatherings, the limited use of balls and the resumption of lower-risk sports.
Progress must continue for football competition to begin, but Monday's conditioning offered hope for August.
"It felt a little strange at first but toward the end it really started to feel like we were a team again," Grace said. "I can't wait to get back out there."