Sycamore players participate on the main field in practice Friday at the school. The football season is scheduled to begin in February.
Sycamore players participate on the main field in practice Friday at the school. The football season is scheduled to begin in February. — Mark Busch –

SYCAMORE – Being on Engh Community Field for the first time since last season was better than nothing for the Sycamore football team, but it still wasn’t being in Ottawa.

“It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing,” senior lineman Dylan Shuman said.

The Spartans took to their main field on a Friday night they originally were scheduled to play an Interstate Eight Conference game against the Pirates.

Instead, they were hitting bags in a practice with pumped in sound, old highlights on the video board and no fans in the stands – although a few were watching from their cars.

“It’s pretty nice making a little bit of contact,” Shuman said. “Going the whole quarantine without hitting anything was not very good. Getting back out here today was nice.”

Coach Joe Ryan said the Spartans tried to get on the main field last week, but the soggy conditions kept them away. He said the coaching staff is trying to keep things as normal as possible.

“We’re trying to create Friday night lights for them right now because they don’t have it,” Ryan said. “I think we created a little bit of that tonight, although it’s not what we’d like to have. Sometimes you don’t always get what you want and you try to make the best of it.”

Ryan said the players have been exemplifying that attitude.

“This goal post as they say has been moving since June, and they’ve adapted every step of the way,” Ryan said. “They’ve come with a great attitude. I couldn’t be more pleased with what we’re getting from our kids. They certainly could sit back and go, ‘Woe is me,’ and we don’t see it.”

The practice came on the eve of a pair of Let Them Play marches across the state, organized in hopes of having a fall season for all sports, as opposed to waiting until the spring.

Currently, the football season is in line to begin in February.

Ryan said he sat in on some organizational phone calls for the rallies, which will be held in Springfield and Chicago. Ryan said the point of the rallies was bigger than just getting players back on the field. He said the main goal is to make sure the IHSA, Illinois Department of Public Health and governor’s office know athletics are important and not just going to go away.

“If we continue to do things the right way – and I believe people are and coaches are and programs are – I think we’re getting closer to be able to do that,” Ryan said. “I think the people who don’t see the environment with us following the guidelines, that we can make it happen. That’s the message.”

Senior linebacker Zach Wilkinson, who like Shuman said the Spartans are supportive of the rallies, said he wants to make sure the team is playing in February.

“It would stink having to prepare for a whole senior year just not to get it,” Wilkinson said. “So hopefully we’ll get it.”

Ryan said he realizes that positive cases are a possibility in any return scenario.

“I don’t have a crystal ball to say no one is ever going to get it,” Ryan said. “If I did, I’m playing the lottery and choosing the numbers. I think if you do it the right way and you’re smart about it, it gives us a chance to get out there and play.”

Ryan also said he hopes the marches spawn better communication between the IHSA, health officials and the governor’s office.

“The governor’s office in the summer wasn’t even returning phone calls or emails from the IHSA,” Ryan said. “Those groups need to work together.”