Competitive COVID-19 Cuts

Due to IHSA restrictions on group meetings because of COVID-19, previously no-cut high school sports face new obstacles


After daily gymnastics practices in the 2019-2020 school year, Ashley Sprague ’22 and the rest of the girls gymnastics team would go out to get dinner and bond as a group. Now, with possible cuts to team sizes caused by COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, Sprague worries that smaller and more selective groups could take away the community the sport has created for her in previous years.

This decision, which extends to previously no-cut sports like gymnastics and boys swimming, is a result of Illinois High School Association (IHSA) limitations governing sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. IHSA officials had ruled that no more than 50 people can be in a room at any given time, and coaches like Doug Lillydahl, head boys swimming coach, have had to cut teams and athletes participating in sports as a result. As of November 20, Illinois rolled back to phase 3, which only allows gatherings of up to 10 people. 

“A normal afternoon practice for us last year probably would have had 80 kids, and the morning practice would have had 60 or 70 kids,” Lillydahl said. “We have a goal of wanting to be safe, but we also have a goal of wanting to get kids involved.”

Not only are coaches and athletes worried about the safety surrounding these events, they are also worried about students missing out on the experiences that come with participating in a high school sport. Sprague is one of these people, as cutting team sizes will decrease the number and variety of individuals she gets to interact with. 

“One thing I really liked about high school gymnastics was the fact that it was no-cut, which took away a lot of the stress of trying to be better than others,” Sprague said. “I enjoyed getting to know people of all levels of gymnastics skills.”

While the number of cuts made varies across sports, many will have to be more selective to accommodate these rules. Gymnastics hasn’t been the only sport forced to change its team selection. For boys swimming, the Junior Varsity 3 team will be completely removed to ensure that the other teams and coaches stay safe while practicing.

In addition to cutting team sizes for a variety of sports, coaches have tried to maintain opportunities for athletes while following safety guidelines by taking measures like staggering practice times. Even though they are prioritizing safety, Sprague thinks that conditions are still dangerous and more could be done. 

“We have practice six days a week, and we won’t have the gym to ourselves,” Sprague said. “In gymnastics, you can’t avoid everyone touching the same equipment, and most are covered with sweat, making it even more dangerous in these times. There is not enough time in between [practices] to [track] symptoms and find COVID-19 before it spreads.”

To combat these worries about safety, Stevenson’s athletic department is modifying practice schedules. Tricia Betthauser, director of the Athletic Department, is cognizant of the impact the cuts could have on athletes’ health. She knows it is crucial that well-being comes first amidst the pandemic. 

“The spaces that we have are going to be considered one single space. For example, gymnastics is being held in the Field House, and even though that’s a large space, it’s still limited to only 50 people at a time,”  Betthauser said. “We’re going to have to limit some of the athletes participating this year, and it’s not an ideal situation but it’s the situation that we’re in.”

Even though athletes’ upcoming seasons are not as they would have expected last year, Betthauser is encouraging positivity throughout it all. As team sizes are reduced for safety’s sake, she believes it’s important for athletes to stay optimistic. 

“I think that when you start to become pessimistic about it or if you lose hope, then that’s when you stop working,” Betthauser said. “I want them to [stay] focused on a goal, and to have the energy to work towards that goal. I think that’s really important at this time.”