IHSA allows participants to shed masks in low-risk sports and activities

Cameron Rozek, Managing Editor & News Editor

The Illinois High School Association released new guidelines on April 12 for several sports regarding when and where masks are to be worn.

When the IHSA board of directors met, one topic of the discussion was the new Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines for low-risk sports, particularly the ability to play without a mask. Bass fishing, baseball, softball, tennis and track and field are all classified as low-risk sports and will be affected by the change. 

New guidelines say that players are allowed to play without wearing a mask so long as they are socially distancing. However, they must wear a mask while not actively playing (on the bench, sidelines, or in the dugouts). Coaches and officials are still required to wear a mask. 

While masks do not critically impact the gameplay of most athletes, players are happy to breathe more easily when they compete. 

“[The players] were relieved that they didn’t have to wear them,” baseball head coach Mike Stock said. “It wasn’t going to be terrible if we did, but I am glad it eased up a bit.” 

For hitters and pitchers in particular, a mask can sometimes be a nuisance. “The idea of possibly something getting in your vision while baseball is being pitched is uncomfortable,” Stock said. 

All of the IHSA classified low-risk sports are naturally socially distanced because of how the game is played, and have minimal time where players are even within 10 feet of each other. 

“I’m glad we can play without masks,” senior varsity baseball player Carson Lee said. “In the field we are already 50 feet apart and outdoors, so it’s already pretty safe.”

For other sports with more close contact, the IDPH recommends frequent COVID-19 testing, and has begun funding optional testing for teams that want to integrate it into their season. IHSA high-risk sports include football, lacrosse and wrestling.