While Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan went into effect on Friday morning, the state’s high school athletic programs remain in Stage 1 of its Return to Play program.


Illinois High School Association executive director Craig Anderson informed athletic directors by email on Thursday that the Stage 2 guidelines had not been approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.


The IHSA’s Return to Play document was developed by its sports medicine advisory committee with an eye toward each stage lining up with the phases of the Restore Illinois plan.


"Please know that we must receive IDPH approval before we implement this next stage. At the time of us sending this update, we have not received that approval," Anderson’s letter said.


Anderson said he would inform member schools as soon as the IDPH makes any decision.


Earlier this week, IHSA member schools received a draft version of the Stage 2 guidelines so they could plan and more quickly implement its requirements, with the understanding that the IDPH might require alterations to the plan.


The most significant difference between Stage 1 and Stage 2 is the number of student-athletes that can be allowed to participate in conditioning drills and weight training. At present, the limit is 10 or fewer; Stage 2 allows groups of 50.


Under Phase 4, the revitalization portion of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan, groups of 50 are already permitted for a wide range of youth sports and recreational activities.


In the email, Anderson encouraged ADs to continue to adhere to the more restrictive Stage 1 guidelines: "We appreciate your willingness to conduct these activities safely."


The draft version of the IHSA’s Stage 2 plan also includes guidance for conducting contests and for activating the "contact days" activities — which allows high school coaches to provide sports- specific instruction and to conduct scrimmages with athletes and teams a certain number of times when school is not in session, such as in the summer.


Anderson indicated one possible reason for the delay could stem from a contrasting set of guidelines for starting the 2020-21 school year as set out by the Illinois State Board of Education in its Transition Joint Guidance document.


"We recognize some differences in the permissions being laid out for extracurricular activities versus our Stage 2 Return to Play guidelines," Anderson wrote.


Anderson acknowledged the receipt of 627 responses from school administrators to its COVID-19 Questionnaire. The IHSA Board of Directors will use the responses to plan activities in the coming school year.


"We anticipate the discrepancies being sorted out when we receive any changes to our draft prior to approval. There will be more to come as we receive IDPH modifications and approval. Thank you for your patience," Anderson’s letter concluded.


The IHSA set up a COVID-19 Resource page on its website at https://www.ihsa.org/Resources/COVID-19, where sports-specific guidelines will be posted in the future. The first resource document is a ball sanitization guide provided by Wilson Sporting Goods.