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Baby steps toward 'sports normal', good news for local athletes

The Illinois High School Association made two announcements that made high school athletes, coaches and fans giddy.

The first on Monday, the high school sports organization said number of spectators allowed at outdoor events could increase to 20 percent of the facilities capacity instead of the 50 people only limit previously set by the IDPH. Indoor sports such as wrestling, volleyball and badminton were not affected by spectator expansion.

St. Joseph-Ogden goalkeeper Hunter Ketchum makes a save during the Spartans home game against Monticello. SJO's soccer season starts today with a home opener against Olympia.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

"We have been adamant in our discussions with IDPH that we believe we can safely and responsibly expand spectator guidelines without risking the general public to greater exposure to COVID-19," IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in are released statement. "This felt like a commonsense change, especially as we evaluated collegiate and pro sport spectator guidelines in the state, and are happy for the student-athletes who will be participating in IHSA outdoor sports this spring and summer, as well as for their families and friends."

Later in the day, the IHSA Board of Directors announced that there will be state finals competition held for badminton, baseball, softball, bass fishing, boys gymnastics, boys tennis, boys volleyball, girls soccer, journalism, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls track and field and boys and girls water polo.

This was even better news for St. Joseph-Ogden senior Crayton Burnett.

"When I found out we were going to have a full season and a postseason I was extremely grateful," Burnett said. "We as a team knew nothing was guaranteed with the pandemic. It means a lot to be able to put on a Spartan uniform one more time and to be able to compete alongside my teammates."

Burnett, who has committed to Dan Hartleb's Fighting Illini baseball program, and the Spartans will start official team practice on April 5.

This month, competition for three sports are already or will get underway. Boys soccer started practice on March 1. Unity played their first match yesterday against Bloomington Central Catholic. St. Joseph-Ogden's season opens today with home match against Olympia.

In preparing for the game, the Spartans' twitter feed announced the protocol for spectators: "New phase 4 guidelines are available on the parent face book site. Summary is: 4 spectators per athlete, masks, minimum 10 ft off game field, maintain social distancing. Blue x's have been marked to help facilitate spacing."

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St. Joseph-Ogden's Kennedy Hudson watches the ball she put in play fly out to left field on Saturday during the Spartans' home softball game against Salt Fork. Hudson's ball was good for a two-run homer to put SJO up 7-4 in the bottom of 6th inning. The Storm rallied back to get within one run of putting the game into extra innings before falling 7-6 in the non-conference contest. Hudson finished the game with a hit and a pair of RBIs.
PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks