CornerKICKS: Education and sports are secondary and expect more of the same this fall

For the past six months, I’ve thought a lot about high school seniors throughout the U.S. – especially the student athletes.

Many of us were in their shoes at one point or another, me included.

That lifelong memory of competing in high school was the main reason why I fought so hard alongside others last fall to help Chicago Pubic Schools (CPS) student athletes. Those innocent kids were kept from closing the final chapter of their high school careers on the field when adults couldn’t get their acts together off the field during the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike.

At the time, I saw quotes from adult leaders of “I wish we could” or “The by-laws say” or “Member schools decided.” I literally shook my head each and every time. As student athletes pleaded, teachers stated on social media that this wasn’t about now – this was about the future.

It truly was an emotional time then for 1,000s of student athletes, and here we are again in another emotional stretch for 1,000s upon 1,000s of student athletes. If there was any coach or student athlete or parent of a student athlete who didn’t know how those CPS student athletes – especially the seniors – felt last fall, I know you do now.

And it pains me just as much thinking about that, as it did last fall watching the CPS kids plead for help. But this time, it’s not just the seniors and their peers – it’s an emotional time for everyone in the world.

As you scan social media, you see the heartbreak of coaches, student athletes and their parents. It’s tough to read and see, because these are moments in life you never get back.

Sadly though, there will be no IHSA spring sport season.

As soon as the Illinois government officially announced the long-expected closure of schools for this school year on Friday, it automatically ended the IHSA season – per its by-laws. The fact the IHSA came out today and said it’ll make a decision on Tuesday is really a procedural move.

After being questioned by member schools last week as to why its administration hadn’t even surveyed its member schools and was making decisions without membership input during a major worldwide pandemic, the IHSA took note right away. It sent out a brief survey and will now let its board – made up of member school leaders – make the “official” announcement.

From CPS student athletes impacted in the fall to the cancellation of the state basketball finals and now no spring sports, it’s been a tough year for student athletes throughout Illinois.

But get ready, because you shouldn’t expect to see fall high school sports take place as planned. School leaders are already talking about moving some fall sports to the spring – including football – or the cancellation of fall sports all together.

You think that’s crazy? What if I would’ve told you in January that every major professional sports league would be off the field for months. And if they return, the professional athletes will be tested and quarantined from the public and others.

Would you have called me crazy then?

Schools are preparing to move to split and block scheduling for next school year. Some are talking about Monday/Wednesday for freshmen and sophomores and Tuesday/Thursday for juniors and seniors with the non-attendance days becoming remote learning.

Some are looking at A and B schedules, where half the school attends for three hours in the morning and the other half for three hours in the afternoon.

Having six periods of lunch back to back with no cleaning, packed school buses and nonstop physical education classes with no cleaning – there are challenges districts across the country are going to deal with throughout the entire 2020-2021 school year.

Teacher’s unions are already questioning districts, as to what their proactive plans are to keep teachers healthy and safe inside the buildings. Athletic directors are worried some older officials will take the year off, leaving some sports with even less officials for games. Schools leaders are expecting rolling building closures next school year, which is why the proactive move to remote learning when and where possible from the start will allow for a more consistent learning option.

You think all of that is crazy? What if I would’ve told you in January that schools wouldn’t return after the middle of March, no prom, no graduation and no spring sports.

Would you have called me crazy?

If you are resisting, it’s time to look around.

Education and sports right now are secondary to sustained health and the mental well-being of people of all ages. While this time is emotional for student athletes and their families, it’s important to remember what sports have taught us on and off the field: 90 percent of performance in life is mental.

And if you never believed that before, you better start to learn that now.

I, just like you, want normal to return – on and off the field – for student athletes and everyone else in the world. Wouldn’t it be great that come May 15 or June 1 life is back to the old normal? No one knows, but school districts know about the word liability better than anyone when it comes to health and safety. 

Until things clear, take a deep breathe and realize the emotion can’t bring things back. Focus on what you can control and make a difference each and every day – in your life and the life of others.

One thing I promise you that will always be part of the old normal – if we return – or the new normal: Your life will become even better by making other lives better. You can’t be a superstar on the field right now, so become a superhero off the field by enhancing the lives of others.

And there’s no better time to start or continue doing that than right now. Society needs more of it, and it needs it from the young people in the game of life.

Bio on columnist: Joe Trost is an award-winning writer: STAR Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year; founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.; and board member for Buddy’s HELPERS, which engages and educates student athletes about Making A Difference On AND Off The Field.