Like many fall athletes, Varsity Cross Country runner Tommy Donohoe didn’t expect the strike to go on for as long as it did.
“I started thinking O.K., so if [the strike] lasts until Saturday [October] 26th then I guess we’re going to lose our cross country,” Donohoe, Div. 059, said. “I thought we would be safe from that possibility and it wasn’t until we were actually in the strike that I realized it really could infringe upon our season.”
According to the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) strike policy, “If a school is on strike and not in legal session, as defined by the State Board of Education, on the date of the beginning competition in any IHSA state series, students from that school may not participate in the state series.”
In this case, because the strike lasted 11 days, it interfered with the IHSA tournament schedule and the CPS Cross Country teams could not participate in regional meets. Once the news was released, IHSA was met with a great deal of backlash from CPS athletes.
“In my opinion, the IHSA is the governing body for high school sports in the state of Illinois. Their function as an organization is to facilitate high school sports competitions,” Donohoe said. “So what reason would they have to try and prevent some of the best athletes in the state from competing in high school sports? I just don’t understand it.”
Just a few days before regionals, Kevin Sterling, a lawyer and Jones College Prep parent, filed for a temporary restraining order against the IHSA in hopes to allow CPS Cross Country runners to compete. His argument was centered around the vague wording of IHSA’s strike policy according to the Chicago Tribune.
However, Sterling’s argument was not enough to keep the IHSA from stopping CPS runners from competing in the regional meet. Because of this, per IHSA policy, the runners were unqualified to compete in sectionals.
In a second attempt to allow the runners to run in the sectional meet, Sterling then filed an emergency injunction. Cook County Judge Neil Cohen agreed with Sterling resulting in the participation of CPS schools in the sectional meet and the advancement to the state championship at Peoria’s Detweiller Park on Nov. 3, according to a separate article in the Chicago Tribune.
While this may have been good news for the CPS runners, the decision was last minute. Some students like Varsity Cross Country runner, Jack Burns, Div. 080, were taken aback.
“I was very scared because I was extremely unprepared since you have to run leading up to your race, but I didn’t do that and I definitely paid for it the next day,” Burns said.
Shortly after the sectional meet, the IHSA filed an appeal that would keep the runners from participating in the state competition.
According to WGN, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement on Tuesday that the appeal is not meant to prevent CPS athletes from participating, but it is a potential outcome. Anderson said the ruling “creates a dangerous legal precedent that hampers our ability to uphold the rules put into place by our member schools, and has far-reaching implications that impact the finality and integrity of any IHSA event.”
Unfortunately for the IHSA, the court delayed the ruling to be made after the competition, allowing CPS runners to run in the state meet.
Some runners believe that it is hypocritical of the IHSA for trying to keep CPS runners from the State meet when the IHSA went against their policy and allowed St. Viator, a private school that missed the regionals, to participate in state.
“They very much had a ‘rules are rules’ attitude about letting CPS kids run, but then they let a non-CPS team race at the state meet despite losing and failing to qualify,” Donohoe said.
Even with the delay of the appeal, it was not guaranteed that the CPS runners would make it to state, so sporting companies Dick Pond and Nike hosted a separate meet on Nov. 7 called “The Chicago City State Meet.”
“A running company and Nike actually teamed up and put on this meet on Thursday for all the kids who got robbed of the chance to keep going,” Burns said. “They’re still hosting it even though the night before, [the court] allowed us to run. It’s more for the kids who didn’t qualify or if they end up disqualifying everyone who has advanced to state.”
Many of the Cross Country runners who had trouble trying to get through their season are also on the track team. According to Donohoe, the willingness of the IHSA to try and stop them from running has only increased their drive and has made them more determined for track season.
“We didn’t get enough time to prepare and so I definitely think that impacted my performance and our performance as a team,” Donohoe said. “We’re mad now… I think we’re all the more motivated to make state in track.”