The map to state finals finally charted for Illinois track & field teams.
good news continues to roll in for Track & Field in Illinois. The IHSA and The Board of Directors conducted their monthly meeting on Monday, April 12th, and addressed a number of the questions that were outstanding regarding the outdoor track season scheduled to run from April 5 to June 19th.
There were only two bullet points relayed, but there are plenty of effects these have that are worth discussing. The first is the lifting of the mask mandate for athletes during competition and the second is the finalization of state championship dates for each of the classes. What do each of these changes mean for athletes and coaches going forward? Let's tackle the simpler one first.
Mask requirements altered for low-risk sports.
The press release for the Board Meeting leads with the following excerpt regarding the mask mandate:
Students competing in low-risk outdoor sports and activities are no longer required to wear masks while competing. In-season IHSA sports and activities impacted by this update include bass fishing, baseball, softball, tennis, and track & field. Students must continue to wear masks in these sports and activities when they are not actively competing (i.e. athletes on the bench).
This is a change from the existing requirement that all athletes must wear masks while competing. Although the change occurred beyond the eleventh hour (the first meets of the official outdoor season were held prior to the 5:30pm press release) and worried some about what decision would be made, this change was anticipated by most since cross country competitions did not require mask wearing and research indicates lower risks of transmission during the warmer months for these low-risk outdoor sports.
Relaxing the mask mandate is a welcome change for all athletes, but doesn't change much for the season--is anything, this is just another step towards the average 2021 track meet competition looking much like a 2019 track meet. Other restrictions that have been phased out include putting runners only in alternating lanes, and the crowd limit of 50. Without these restrictions, meet sizes will be limited only by the hosting schools and potentially the conferences of hosting schools.
That was the simpler change to discuss! Let's get into the more complicated one.
State meet schedule established for all divisions.
State finals were made official for track & field with the release of the following schedule:
You may not think that there are a lot of conclusions drawn from just these six dates, but there are many. The two main takeaways are as follows:
1. Each division will have its own date to have the state meet conducted.
2. Each state meet will only run for a single day.
Point #1 will allow for smaller crowds and perhaps avoid the need for overnight stays, depending on the location of these meets. The location is unclear, and although the typical host, Eastern Illinois University, has been rumored to be the host for each date, this has not been confirmed.
*June 10: Class 1A Girls
*June 11: Class 2A Girls
*June 12: Class 3A Girls
*June 17: Class 1A Boys
*June 18: Class 2A Boys
*June 19: Class 3A Boys
Ultimately, those factors will not be changing the way coaches and athletes approach the state meet in the way that Point #2 will. Since the schedule of the state meet is reduced to a single-day affair, there cannot be a day devoted to prelims. No prelims mean seeding in heats based on qualifying times, and this drastically changes the landscape for athletes in every event. Usually, only runners in the 3200 need to pay attention to their sectional performance because that will put you in either heat A or heat B. However, every state qualifier now will pay close attention to the ranking of their sectional performance because their flights or heats will be pre-determined. For sprint events, just tenths of a second will separate multiple heats.
Such a format will affect athletes planning on doubling or participating in both individual and relay events the most. Instead of just trying to hit the qualifying time or eeking into the top-2, coaches need to determine what performance is most appropriate for each entry when the time comes for the state meet (note: qualifying times and marks for meet appear to be the same as the 2020 standards). For example, an athlete may be a state level-800 runner on a team with 4x800 title aspirations as well. Typically at sectionals, she may be able to anchor the 4x800 relay with an easier leg to just ensure qualifying and prepare for faster individual performance. However, this year it may be in her best interest to run the best possible time in the 4x800 sectional race for a good state heat placement, which may compromise her individual prospects. Situations like this will test the entry decisions that coaches make, and deep teams with strong competition at sectionals may benefit the most under these circumstances.
However, there will surely be no complaints from track coaches about having a state meet, especially as the majority of sports held this semester have not had the same blessing. Now that the roadmap to the state finals has been plotted, we look forward to seeing you wherever the state may be this June.
Each classification could be best served by IHSA if a different host is selected for each state meet. This would allow for a more appropriate location to be selected based on the locations of schools in that division--the most obvious example of this is having a 3A meet hosted in or around Chicago since the majority of 3A schools are in that part of the state. 1A and 2A's hosts would need to be more centrally located, since those divisions are more varied geographically, but can still be catered specifically for those schools. A clear downside to different locations would be the logistical challenges of having officials for each state meet, as well as the right timing infrastructure. The same host is likely for those reasons.