This fall has brought many mixed emotions as far as Illinois high school athletics go.
Those athletes involved in golf, cross country and tennis — sports deemed low-risk by the Illinois Department of Public Health — have been able to participate in regular and postseasons, while a number of traditional fall sports [high-risk by the IDPH], including football, are postponed until spring.
This all while 35 states, including all states bordering the Land of Lincoln, have allowed football to played — with restrictions. However, the fact is for those states, it hasn't come without riding down a rocky road.
All one has to do is type in a Google search of "list of high school football games cancelled/postponed due to COVID-19" to see that postponements or cancellations have been common across the nation.
This past Friday night I saw that Nick Deranek, former News Director at WSPL in Streator and currently at the same position at WRSW in Warsaw, Ind., was tweeting updates from a game between Warsaw and NorthWood High Schools. I reached out to get some of his thoughts and what he has seen relating to Indiana high school football.
"Typically if I don't have anything else going on or a hockey game on a Friday night, I will go help cover our local football team through social media." said Deranek, who is also the PA announcer for University of Notre Dame. "That was the second high school football I was able to attend this fall, and our season here did start on time.
"I was there for the season opener back in August, and there was a pretty good turnout. They have sections of the bleachers roped off, are making sure families are staying social distanced from others and really just following the guidelines they have been given. There were probably 2,000 here in attendance with both the home and visitors' side combined."
Deranek said that coaches and players he has talked to there in Warsaw are obviously excited to be able to play, but there have bumps in the road here and there. He added that in Indiana, the counties are in charge of setting their rules and restrictions, with most schools tightening those even more.
"If a player or players tested positive for the virus, there was contact-tracing, and at times they would have to cancel practices and sometimes games," he said. "[Warsaw] has been fortunate that they haven't had to postpone or cancel any games because of COVID-19.
"Elkhart County High School, which is to our north, had to miss the first week or two of the season because of such a bad outbreak in the county itself ,and it's happened to a number of schools in the area since the season started."
Fieldcrest High School standout athlete Jaxon Cusac-McKay transferred to Calloway County High School in Murray, Ky., earlier in the fall to be able to participate in football.
The senior wide receiver helped the Lakers to a season-opening 33-0 win over Marshall County, a team they hadn't defeated since 2013, then after a loss in Week 2, caught the game-winning pass in a 14-7 victory over Hopkinsville, a team that had won the previous six meetings.
"They have been trying to get me the ball a little more in each game we have played," said Cusac-McKay. "But like any player, I'd like to be getting more touches, but I know that will come in time, plus I'm kind of the new kid on the block.
"Really, I'm worried about winning games, so if I don't get the ball the whole game and we win, I'm happy. I'm here to win and be the best team player I can be."
Following the triumph over Hopkinsville on Sept. 25, the team was put in quarantine for two weeks after a positive case of COVID-19 was found at Calloway County. The Lakers returned to the field last Friday night and topped host Madison-North Hopkins 20-10 to improve to 3-1 on the season. The Lakers were 1-10 in 2019.
"It has been like being on a roller coaster," said Cusac-McKay. "There was the ups of the first three weeks and then the down of the past two not being able to practice or play. It was frustrating coming off a big game and win against Hopkinsville to find out we'd be quarantined, but it is what it is."
On the season so far, Cusac-McKay has caught nine passes for 79 yards and a TD, returned four kickoffs for 73 (18.3 per return), plus recorded 17 1/2 tackles at his safety spot. He also posted his first interception of the season in last week's win.
"It's been different for sure," said Cusac-McKay of the transition from Fieldcrest to Calloway County. "This school here is bigger [enrollment 847, compared to Fieldcrest at 315], and so are our opponents.
"But to be honest, I feel playing in the Heart of Illinois Conference prepared me for a situation like this."
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