Demonstrators listen to a speaker at the "Let Us Play" rally in support of a return to high school sports on Saturday at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago.
Demonstrators listen to a speaker at the "Let Us Play" rally in support of a return to high school sports on Saturday at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. — Tony Gadomski for Shaw Media

The "Let Us Play" rally held at the Thompson Center in Chicago had a clear message on Saturday.

A crowd of around 500 listened to a group of passionate student athletes and other individuals speak on the value of athletics in their lives and the need for it to be restored as soon as humanly possible. Another similar rally was conducted at the State Capitol building in Springfield.

Those impassioned pleas have largely fallen on deaf ears to this point as athletes are trying desperately to get the governor to reverse his position that doesn't allow for several sports to be contested until the spring. Sports that are currently playing will not be allowed traditional postseasons and state championship tournaments.

And while nearly all of the blame and anger by the attendees were placed in the lap of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the almost equivalent battle is a race against the calendar.

For example, had the football schedule gone off without a hitch, we would have just left Week 4 of the regular season. And since the bureaucracy of just about any organization doesn't move that fast, it seems unlikely to expect swift movement on any sort of reversal.

Even with one, there is an almost zero percent chance that any adjustment would be made to the amount of acclimatization time required prior to any athletic season, which is currently two weeks. A reversal of any kind would push the start of any non-competing fall sports season into the first week of October. Each day that goes by pushes a potential start date deeper into October.

Moving that deep into the fall calendar, even with a reduced regular season and reduced playoff system in some sort of state championship series, would require a minimum of eight weekends to allow for an even remotely decent schedule.

And in the current parameters, that would be pushing the season into mid to late December. Although some states do that already, Illinois hasn't been one of them. And there's been almost no indication of a willingness to do so now despite these extremely unique circumstances.

Those facts aren't new information to anyone involved with the protests on Saturday. And those facts didn't make the lack of being able to play the sports they love any easier to swallow.

The most passionate plea came from St. Laurence volleyball player Ella Woltman.

“We are done waiting. We the healthy have gone through absolute torture while waiting for answers from the people in charge," Woltman said. "We know what you are doing is unfair. We know the risks of our own sports so let the parents and athletes decide how risky our sports are.”

Lincoln-Way East running back Jamal Johnson, a Bowling Green recruit, has stayed even keel throughout but admits to the toll the disruption has taken on him.

"It's just hard, just staying at home, thinking about how you could be out there playing, seeing these other states playing when we can't," Johnson said. "Anything that they can do, we can do. Tell us what we need to do. We are ready for anything. At practice, we practice in masks, we're doing non-contact in practice. We are doing anything in our power to get back on the field, anything that's thrown at us, we are willing to do and accomplish it."

Former Chicago Bears offensive lineman Olin Kreutz, whose son Josh Kreutz is at Loyola and is committed to the University of Illinois, also addressed the crowd and hit on one point of consternation for almost everyone involved with Saturday's rally.

"People need to stop saying no and starting asking how," Kreutz said.

And with no clear benchmarks for how or when this stalemate could conceivably end, the general positive vibe of the morning was still struck with a tinge of disappointment.

Kenwood Academy's Myles Mooyoung, a soft-spoken football player, was one of six students to speak their minds on the topic of the day.

Mooyoung wasn't armed with loads of data or statistics. He had a simple message that resonated through the rest of the morning.

"Anything that happens is on us," Mooyoung said. "If I get COVID from playing football, I'm fine with that, because I was doing what I love. Let us play."