With IHSA’s recent decision to adjust the sports seasons and limit choices for playing either school or travel season, many of West’s own athletes have to decide what they’re going to do when their sports season rolls around this year. As athletes adjusted to the new season lineup, for some this was an opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and try something new.
“I think the pandemic has allowed different athletes to be able to participate in new sports that they initially wouldn’t have been able to do, due to the normal IHSA season. For example, I know there were some volleyball girls who joined cross country which only happened because the season was shifted,” senior softball player Abigail Gawlinski said.
While some athletes used the shift in the season to try something new, others are using this time to train and improve on their skills by the time their season comes. “The new season has given us more time to get out healthier, stronger, faster, and it has given us more time during the spring to practice and get better, so by then we will see a great deal of improvement from everyone,” senior baseball player Roberto Villalobos said.
Although there are some positives to this shift in season there’s also some negatives that come from this unique change. The anticipation to play is at an all-time high, especially among upper-classmen. “I think IHSA’s decision was for overall safety and I understand that, but these are our last few opportunities of competing with the sports and teammates that we love, and for athletes who might have to choose between school or travel, it just seems wrong,” junior volleyball player Viviana Ramirez said.
This is the decision that many athletes are going to have to make due to the long-standing IHSA ruling: “During the time you are participating on a school team in a sport at your high school, you may neither play on a non-school team nor compete in non-school competition as an individual in that same sport or in any skill of that sport,” according to IHSA.org.
One factor that many athletes have to take into account when deciding which team to play for is college recruiting. With a recent decision made by the NCAA, recruiting for Division 1 schools will not take place until 2021, shortening the already stressful amount of time for star athletes to have big schools reach out to them. “More than half of my travel team is already recruited, so they don’t really care as much about choosing between high school and travel ball. However, for myself and a few others, we are very stressed about what we are going to do,” Gawlinski said.
“A common solution that a bunch of teammates were saying was that if they are recruited by [the start of the] high school season, they would play the full season — while others were saying they would maybe start the [high school] season, then drop it halfway through to play travel. I personally don’t really know what I’m going to do, but I think if I get recruited by then, I might play high school ball,” Gawlinski explained.
Another factor that athletes have to consider is the money that they pay to play on travel teams and the exposure they gain from travel versus school; as a result, the answer seems to be leaning to one side. “I am fortunate enough that I don’t have to make that decision, but if I did it would be a hard choice for sure. In the end, I would have to choose travel,” Ramirez said. “Although I have commitments to both, I think travel brings better opportunities overall. I have teammates that are sure that they want to play on the travel team over school, but it is more difficult to get noticed without tournaments with scouts or any recent game film, and that’s what they need for recruitment to colleges.”
With many travel teams costing thousands of dollars to join, athletes may not truly feel they have a choice, if they have already invested in a travel team and don’t want to lose out on that financial commitment. “My parents pay a lot of money for me to play on the team that I do, and the team pays even more expenses to be in tournaments for recruiting. I also feel that there would be better competition playing around the Midwest opposed to just playing local high schools in Illinois. Although I really love the environment and the people and the coaches at Maine West, I would just feel bad that my parents would be spending thousands of dollars for me to play [on a travel team] and to get recruited, but not getting the money well spent,” said.
Although the IHSA still has the option to change their rules, the consensus from athletes is that they just want to play their sports. “IHSA is trying really hard to let not just our baseball athletes but also spring athletes have a chance to get everything back to normal and that’s all we can really ask for. So, overall, I feel that it’s all precautionary, but I think everyone agrees: we just want to play,” Villalobos said.