Brian Zimmerman

Hononegah head coach Brian Zimmerman hopes for a safe return to the football field.

ROCKTON—Hononegah coach is waiting with bated breath, along with the rest of the Illinois sports community, for the IHSA to make a decision.

The organization was expected to announce a decision on when and how football programs in Illinois could use its contact days over the summer.

Hononegah, like the rest of the state, is allowed 25 days of contact through the summer.

Instead of issuing the expected update, IHSA Director Craig Anderson issued the following statement on Tuesday afternoon:

“I recognize that IHSA schools, students, and coaches are anxious for the IHSA Return To Play Guidelines to be released. In many ways, they represent the first step in a return to normalcy as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee was diligent in their development of these guidelines, and we have worked in good faith with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to make sure our plan optimizes safety for high school students in Illinois. IDPH approval is vital in this process, and we understand and respect that they have pressing statewide issues to resolve that take precedence. Quarantine has been a test of patience, and now we ask our IHSA community for just a bit more of it as we collaborate with IDPH to finalize these Return To Play Guidelines.

“We understand that the return of athletics is important to our high school students from a physical, mental, and emotional perspective, but we also recognize that we must be in full accord with IDPH to maximize safety and help avoid any setbacks in reuniting our students with their coaches.”

Zimmeran is chomping at the bit for a chance to meet with his team.

“My best-case scenario is that the IHSA would allow contact with the players on July 1,” Zimmerman said. “We are planning to meet with the team virtually next week, and we’ve given them different body weight exercises to do. There can be some film study done with Hudl, but it’s definitely been difficult.”

Zimmerman said that even if the IHSA gives approval to teams to gather, it’s up to the individual school to grant access.

“The school administration has to decide if they are comfortable with us using the facilities,” Zimmerman said. “From early indications, I think they would let us use the outside portion, but I don’t think they’d let us inside the fieldhouse or give access to the weight room.

“There are a lot of logistics that the school has to work through that are very difficult. If they let us inside, they are going to have to wipe down every machine right after it’s used, and it takes resources that the school might have to reallocate to do that, so I understand these are tough decisions.”

Zimmerman said the fact that his team is fairly experienced will help whenever the tranisiton does begin.

“We aren’t learning a new offense or anything,” Zimmerman said. “We’ll be using the same concepts we’ve been using for the past four years. What we utilize the summer for is getting reps for the players, and also for us as coaches to be able to build relationships with the players. And I’m concerned that if we just get the go-ahead to hand out uniforms on August 10, how many of these guys have been working out and will be ready? The great thing about our summer program is that it gives guys structure. They can come in, do 90 minutes of strength and agility, and they are done for the day. Without that structure, it’s going to be a lot easier for guys to take days off and not be ready when the time comes.”

Zimmerman is trying to keep a positive frame of mind when it comes to starting the season on time.

“That’s kind of the way we’ve got to look at it,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve got to be fully ready to go when they say we can. We just met as a defensive staff for three hours yesterday, talking about what we wanted to do virtually, and what we wanted to do for contact days. I will say that the longer the IHSA delays makjng the decision, the tougher it’s going to be. I think we’re going to have a really good team. We’ve got seven or eight guys back on each side of the ball, and we’ve got a lot of potential. We’ve got great numbers, too. I’ve got 74 on the varsity roster alone, and over 150 in high school.

“So much has been taken from these guys, but at least they still have the chance to play. The seniors that just got done and were not given the chance to have a final track, baseball or volleyball season, that’s got to be really tough to comprehend for a teenager. It has to be horrible for those kids.”

While lamenting the potential loss of a season, Zimmerman made clear where his priorities lie.

“As much as I’d love to play, my top priority is with the health and safety of my players,” Zimmerman said. “There are a lot of life lessons that can be taken out of football, but the number one lesson should be that human lives aren more important than football.”