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‘We took it for granted’: Pandemic changed game for sports staffs


Herald & Review sports reporter Matthew Flaten interviews Maroa-Forsyth football player Bryson Boes during practice March 10 at the high school. (Photos by Clay Jackson, Herald & Review)

Sports journalists reflect on coverage before, during pandemic

For Illinois Press Association

Sports editors, reporters, coaches, players and fans all face a deep question: How much value is there in games played during this COVID-19 pandemic-ravaged school year?

You can practically hear Matt Daniels, sports editor at the News-Gazette in Champaign, lean back in his chair and scratch his head as he considers what’s at stake for athletes, with no postseason in Illinois for prep basketball and football.

“Now they don’t haMattDanielsve that carrot at the end — there’s no quest to reach DeKalb or Champaign,” he said, referring to the football championships. “I don’t think that diminishes it, but ... it feels different. For basketball, in a state like Illinois, with such a college basketball scene, to have no champions two years in a row, it’s hard to wrap your head around.”

On a positive note, the IHSA, which has worked closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health since the pandemic began, announced on March 8 that outdoor sports will have a standard postseason this year, complete with the traditional championship events.

Gamers canceled

Journalists have learned in recent years, as analytics have become more available, that “gamers” aren’t the sought-after coverage they might have thought.

How has that changed now that only so many fans can, and are willing to, attend games in-person?

Not a whole lot, from what Wes Huett, sports editor at the Journal Star in Peoria, is seeing. In late-February, he stepped out to cover a battle of unbeaten boys’ basketball teams in the Mid-Illini Conference, between Washington and Metamora.

It was a Saturday, so the paper’s 7 p.m. deadline didn’t play a factor. Huett hoped for good numbers.

The story got fewer tWeshan 1,000 page views.

“It did OK,” he said. “It didn’t explode. Then I do a couple of hours of research and put together a list of the top programs of the past 20 years, and that brings in 10,000 views and brings in 10 local subscribers. There’s no readership in gamers, and I think sometimes we lie to ourselves.”

The Pantagraph in Bloomington and Herald & Review in Decatur wrestle with similar deadlines, forcing staff back into the get-in, get-out mentality. Sports Editor Justin Conn said that’s not a bad thing.

“I’d write 12 inches from the game, and then start reporting,” he said. “You can always find a feature on a kid. So this has kind of pushed us into what we have to do. In some ways, I think it’s better coverage that way. I always thought of gamers as a necessary evil. Yeah, people miss gamers, but as long as we’re telling kids’ stories, that’s what we’re doing here.”

From a sentimental perspective, Daniels said an observant gamer is more valuable than ever.

“The game stories are crucial, maybe even more so now,” he said. “I think before we took for granted how vital game stories are, and how much people crave the comfort level in those stories. The biggest and best moments of a high school athlete’s life can play out in a moment in a game.”

From a practical pJustinConnerspective, often the best story ideas come from watching a team or player in person. While it can be challenging to take parents with a grain of salt, often they give the best tips.

“We’re in a tough spot, because you have to be at those games to get those stories,” Huett said. “It’s an iceberg type thing. We’re losing some of that hidden time.”

Precious resources

Even if the metrics supported covering games, the manpower doesn’t, with the declines of staff sizes over the past decade only being exacerbated by the pandemic.

As an example, when Huett joined the Journal Star in 2001, counting part-timers, there were twice as many sports department employees as the paper has in its entire editorial department today.

“We took it for granted,” Huett said.

The number of W-2 employees has also shrunk at the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights. John Radtke, high school sports editor, said a few of his regular contributing freelancers opted not to cover indoor sports because of safety concerns, “which I completely understand and respect,” he said.

Adding insult to injury, sports editors find themselves spending hours emailing and calling athletic directors to gain approval to have a staff member at a game, be it a reporter, a photographer or both.

Radtke estimates he spends between 8 and 10 hours a week on that task alone.

“That’s really been a major part of the job in these past 6 weeks,” he said.

Radtke is 63, and he’s coToddvered high school sports since 1975, so he’s no stranger to cancellations and postponements of outdoor sports in the inclement early spring. Indoor sports in winter, though?

“It feels almost like a traditional spring season, because you’ve got people adding games, and cancelling games at the last minute,” he said. “It’s certainly been strange.”

As Todd Hefferman, a sports reporter at The Southern Illinoisan, points out, you’d better check one last time before you hit the road.

“Then you’ve got to make sure the schedule doesn’t change the day of the game,” he said. “We’ve been lucky so far.”

Protocols vary not just on a county-by-county and municipality-by-municipality basis, but also from conference to conference and even school to school.

At the college level, early in the basketball season, the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin didn’t allow media at its games.

Conn said he wrote the league. Having recently re-read a letter sports writer Jim Benson wrote to the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin asking for a seat closer to the court, he sees he missed an opportunity.

“Now that I’m reading it, I should have brought this kind of heat in my CCIW letter!” Conn wrote in an email.

‘It’s become a very stressful period’

Before games resumed, sports departments keyed on the pandemic’s impact on players, coaches and families off the court. Many sports staffers helped out on news reporting.

Radtke quickly began hearing from athletic directors, parents, and even doctors suggesting the Daily Herald delve into student-athletes’ mental health.

“When the kids got quarantined and couldn’t do anything, it got to a point where we really had to look into what was happening with these kids outside the physical part,” Radtke said. “They’re teenagers and had their world basically stripped away from them.”

In related news, journalists bleed when pricked. Radtke said for myriad reasons, the pandemic and coverage cycle have taken a massive toll.

“To be very honest, it’s become a very stressful period,” Radtke said.

Every editor interviewed for this story made a point of saying they won’t put a staffer in a position where they feel unsafe.

Huett said he hopes the pandemic has brought to light the importance of work-life balance, and that it’s shown leaders they need to reconsider what they’re capable of.

“We covered preps so well for so long, and we’re being compared to ourselves,” he said. “That’s sometimes tough to live up to. And I refuse to live up to it. It feels like no matter what our resources are, we’re doing far more than we should be doing. How about we just realize what we have, and everybody live a nice balanced life, not in front of your computer?”

Conn emphasized that photo galleries are an efficient way to drive traffic. He admits he’s spoiled that his newsrooms’ lone photographer, Clay Jackson, is always willing to hit multiple events — even if he arrives at some and the door is locked, and the athletic director needs to be contacted to let him in.

“He is a huge part of our coverage,” Conn said. “We get him out as much as we can. Photo galleries are a huge traffic driver for us.”

Huett said it’s more crucial than ever to follow the metrics and do the deep dives, lists, photo galleries, and other types of stories that move the needle.

“We’re going to miss the forest for the trees, if you’re grinding and grinding and grinding, and those big stories fall by the wayside,” he said.

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Press Releases



Partners in Recovery:
Sangamon County Recovery Oriented System of Care

April 8, 2021
CONTACT: Teagan Shull,

217-544-9858, ext. 3108

(Springfield) – Systems of recovery have been forming across the state of Illinois. The goals of these systems?  To support recovery. Family Guidance Centers, Inc. (FGC), a not-for-profit behavioral health care organization that treats and prevents substance use disorders, as well as an array of other behavioral health care concerns, received a grant to create a recovery oriented system of care (ROSC) right here in Sangamon County. What does a ROSC do?

ROSC is a coordinated network of community-based services and supports that is person-centered and builds on the strengths and resiliencies of individuals, families, and communities to achieve recovery and improved health, wellness, and quality of life for those with or at risk of substance use disorders. The central focus of a ROSC is to create an infrastructure, or “system of care”, with the resources to effectively address the full range of substance use disorders within communities. These goals include:  

* Building a culture that builds and nurtures recover
* Building capacity and infrastructure to support a recovery-oriented system of care;
* Developing commitment to implement and sustain a recovery-oriented system of care.

“The goal of a ROSC is to create a system that works for individuals in recovery. This means that individuals in recovery have access to the resources and support they need. Recovery is a lifelong journey not just a 28-day program and individuals, their families and the community all need to work together to support that journey,” said Tegan Shull, program manager of Sangamon County ROSC. “Currently the council is working on conducting a community needs assessment and developing educational materials to facilitate conversations in the community about recovery and start reducing the stigma that surrounds substance use disorders. Recovery truly takes a village and affects the entire community”

"The current system of care is complex and often poses barriers versus points of access. Individuals and family members struggle to navigate services that are disjointed and often times stigmatizing. Sangamon County needs a connected system with multiple points of access to treatment and recovery services,” said Trenda Hedges, manager of Wellness and Recovery Operations for Beacon Health Options. “The phrase ‘nothing about us without us’ has been the chant of individuals in recovery for decades. ROSC creates the opportunity for the voices of those most affected by substance use and misuse to be heard and implemented into a system of care that supports recovery."

Sangamon County Partners in Recovery (ROSC) meets monthly and all are invited to attend. If you or your organization would like to get involved, visit the ROSC website at Sangamon County Partners in Recovery (godaddysites.com) or email Teagan Shull at tshull@fgcinc.org.

120 N 11th St., Springfield, IL 62703, (217) 544-9858
Website: Sangamon County Partners in Recovery (godaddysites.com)



Illinois midwife bill passes
House Health Care Licensing Committee

March 29, 2021
CONTACT: Bukola M. Bello


After a decades-long fight, a bill to license certified professional midwives in Illinois passed the Illinois House of Representatives Health Care Licensing Committee March 24, 2021.

The bill grants a state license for midwives to assist in safe home births if they attain professional midwife certification, a nationally recognized credential.

The bill has been a long time coming. Variations of this bill have been brought before the legislature nearly every year since the late 1970s. In that same time, 35 states and Washington D.C. have granted licenses to certified professional midwives, many of which also cover the cost through state Medicaid programs.

Nearly 1,000 families in Illinois choose to give birth at home every year. These families may choose to do so due to cultural, philosophical or religious reasons, or because of fear related to trauma and racism.The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for out-of-hospital maternity care providers. Most people seeking out-of-hospital births this year have been left to navigate a market of underground midwives, which offers no state regulated protections for consumers.

People of color also face much higher risk of maternal mortality and other complications than their white counterparts. A recent National Academy of Engineering, Medicine, and Sciences' Birth Settings in America Report indicated that racism not race  is a risk that contributes to poorer outcomes for birthing people of color. Proponents of the bill believe that providing the people of Illinois more access to safe, licensed maternity care providers outside the hospital system can help address this problem.

Isis Rose, a Black mother, anthropologist, birth professional and home birth advocate, of Urbana, Illinois, told Illinois House Health Care Licensing Committee members that she chooses to birth at home because here in Illinois, Black women are six times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.” The disproportionately high rates of negative pregnancy and birth outcomes for black birthing people of color, coined “obstetric racism” by anthropologist Dana-Ain Davis, is the primary reason she and her husband choose to have their babies at home with a certified professional midwife. She relayed that “for all people, especially Black birthing people, to feel comfortable choosing home birth, we need increased access to legal channels of midwifery and greater access to home birth midwives with congruent cultural backgrounds and lived experiences.”

In addressing these numerous issues, the Certified Professional Midwife Practice Act (HB 3401) will regulate the professional conduct of home birth midwives in Illinois by establishing a Midwifery Board and setting rigorous standards for practice; require midwives to meet educational standards supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; regulate the use of life-saving medications and treatments for mothers and newborns to ensure high-quality care for parent and child; allow midwives to screen for possible complications and conditions such as congenital heart defects and hearing disabilities; establish a safe system to transfer care during rare emergencies; and mandate informed consent forms to meet established standards.

Carrie Vickery, of Ottawa, Illinois, and vice president of Illinois Friends of Midwives, a group advocating and lobbying for broader access to midwifery care in Illinois, told state legislators during a March 24, 2021, hearing that the state of Illinois is failing in its duty to appropriately regulate home birth midwifery.

"Each year of delay in licensing and integrating home birth midwives puts consumers at risk," Vickery said. "We are telling you: protect us. Give us licensed certified professional midwives."

Hearing this call, the committee passed the bill with a unanimous vote, and the bill is expected to be brought to the House floor for a vote sometime later this session.

The bill's sponsors in the Illinois House of Representatives are state Reps. Rep.Robyn Gabel (D, Evanston), Anna Moeller (D, Elgin), Michelle Mussman (D, Schaumburg) William Davis (D, East Hazel Crest),Terra Costa-Howard (D, Lombard), Norine K. Hammond (R, Macomb), Kelly M. Cassidy (D, Chicago), Bob Morgan (D, Highwood), LaToya Greenwood (D, East St. Louis), Amy Grant (R, Wheaton), Lance Yednock (D, Ottawa), Steven Reick (R, Woodstock), Daniel Didech (D, Buffalo Grove), Michael T. Marron (R, Danville), Maurice A. West, II (D, Rockford), Thomas Morrison (R, Palatine), Rita Mayfield (D, Waukegan), Michael Halpin (D, Rock Island), Kathleen Willis (D, Northlake), Brad Halbrook (R, Shelbyville), Edgar Gonzalez, Jr. (D, Summit), Mark Batinick (R, Plainfield), Randy E. Frese (R, Quincy), Theresa Mah (D, Chicago), Margaret Croke (D, Chicago), Stephanie A. Kifowit (D, Aurora), Janet Yang Rohr (D, Naperville), Lindsey LaPointe (D, Chicago) and Suzanne Ness (D, Carpentersville).

Americans have been preparing
for the impact of a pandemic for over 75 years!

From home economics to the modern family and consumer sciences classes, the foundation of basic life skills helped bring families through 2020 and beyond.  

Feb. 9, 2021
CONTACT: Marissa Kunerth, communications & public relations manager
Family, Career and Community Leaders of America


RESTON, VA For many, it has taken a global pandemic to motivate them to refine and reuse many basic life skills. With restaurants closed and stay-at-home mandates in place, a growing number of adults have turned to online tutorials, social media recipes, and family and friends to learn basic life skills. Admittedly, more than a fourth of Americans admit they cannot cook and claim this skill is something they now realize is an essential skill that should be taught in every school in the United States.

75 years ago, when Future Homemakers of America (FHA), presently known as Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), was founded, no one thought the skills gained through Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) classes would get families through a pandemic. The country was digging out of the Great Depression and using skills taught at home and in Home Economics to rebuild the economy of our country. In education, Home Economics transitioned to Family and Consumer Sciences in 1994 and some felt these classes were no longer essential. Since 2012, there has been an estimated 40% decline in FCS classes, but the coronavirus pandemic has led to an outcry to bring “Home Ec” back and reinforced how important basic life skills are to not only be successful at home but holistically as humans impacting careers and communities.

Since its inception in 1945, FCCLA has promoted the need for FCS education for every student in every state in every school. FCCLA knows the importance of FCS education, which provides students with lifelong skills such as nutrition, menu planning, food preparation, clothing care and construction, money management, child development, and workforce readiness. Many students move from learning basic skills in an apron to preparing hopefully to someday wear a chef’s coat.

Illinois State Adviser Marta Lockwood shares, “The Illinois Association of FCCLA is proud to be a part of the long-standing legacy of helping students become great leaders. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing young people making a difference in their personal lives, their homes, schools, and communities!”

Through FCS education, FCCLA provides opportunities for members to develop 21st century skills that enhance students’ understanding of community, work, family, and their interpersonal relationships. This year, FCCLA celebrates its 75th anniversary by commemorating all 50 state associations who have contributed to student’s success through character development, creative and critical thinking, interpersonal communication, practical knowledge, and career preparation.

Since chartering with the national organization in January 1946, thousands upon thousands of Illinois students have taken advantage of this incredible organization and all it has to offer. As a youth led organization, Illinois FCCLA has teams of student officers who serve at every level of the organization from the local high schools to the state and national levels. These youth leaders plan and assist with all the community service projects, leadership training, and conferences that are held. Illinois State Adviser Marta Lockwood adds “one of the greatest things about FCCLA is that it has so many different programs and opportunities for the students to find success in. From community service projects to competitive events, FCCLA gives students the opportunity to combine their education and leadership skills to make a difference and receive recognition for their accomplishments”.

FCCLA’s 75thanniversary is a major milestone for the organization and FCS education. Whether one is looking to feel confident in the kitchen, make a difference in their community, or prepare for career success, FCCLA and FCS is the secret ingredient to succeed in the home and workplace.

Research Sources:

Tufts University: https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/general-nutrition/28-of-americans-cant-cook

WZDX Fox: https://www.rocketcitynow.com/article/news/what-ever-happened-to-home-ec-millennials-struggling-with-home-and-nutrition-skills/525-7f8fd87d-2134-408f-909b-4687ba46b496


Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) is a dynamic and effective national student organization that helps young men and women become leaders and address important personal, family, work, and societal issues through Family and Consumer Sciences education. FCCLA has more than182,000 members and 5,253 chapters from 48 state associations, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.


Illinois Principals Association to host first virtual Education Leaders Conference in February  

Feb. 1, 2021
CONTACT: Dr. Jason Leahy, executive director
Illinois Principals Association


SPRINGFIELD – In a first for the Illinois Principals Association, we are hosting our Annual Education Leaders Conference virtually. The 49th annual Education Leaders Conference and Exhibition, “L.E.A.D.” Conference (Learning – Equity – Advocacy – Diversity) will take place online February 22-23, 2021. The annual conference provides an opportunity for principals and other administrators to learn from leaders in the education field and participate in sessions to better serve their schools. 
“School leaders have been there to support teachers, guide parents, and serve our students through the multitude of challenges this school year,” said Dr. Amy Dixon, IPA President. “With the aid of the Illinois Principals Association, principals have not only overcome the challenges, but shown tremendous personal growth and flexibility.  Now it is time for school leaders to take time to recharge and renew their purpose, passion, and leadership. The IPA Education Leaders Conference is the premiere event of the year that will allow them to do that and so much more!”
The conference will include presentations from keynote speakers Adam Welcome, Illinois State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala, and Beth Houf.  Monday’s first general session will feature Adam Welcome, a Principal and Director of Innovation for a large school district in the Bay Area of California, and his presentation “Kids Deserve It!” Mr. Welcome has been honored as Principal of the Year for his region, a “20 to Watch” for the National School Board Association, guest blogger for EdWeek, NAESP magazine, and other publications. His presentation is a simple, yet profound message to become more engaged with your school community.
Speakers at the second general session on Monday afternoon include Dr. Carmen Ayala, Illinois State Superintendent of Schools, and Dr. Amy Dixon, principal of Jefferson and Lincoln Elementary Schools in Carmi, IL and IPA President. IPA Principal of the Year awards, the Reaching Out & Building Bridges Award, and the Mr. John Ourth & Dr. Fred W. Singleton Professional Development Scholarships will also be presented at this session.
Beth Houf will begin the conference Tuesday morning with her presentation “The Power of Appreciation,” including strategies to build rapport with students, staff, and parents. Beth Houf is the proud principal of Fulton Middle School in central Missouri.  She is the Co-Author of “Lead Like a PIRATE:  Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff.”  Beth also serves as a facilitator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Leadership Academy, providing monthly training to state educational leaders.  She has spoken at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference, the Association for Middle-Level Education National Conference, the National Principals Conference, and many other state and local educational venues. 
The conference will include popular IGNITE sessions, presented by IPA Principal of the Year Award Winners and leaders including Mandy Ellis (Principal, Dunlap Grade School), Dan Kaiser (Retired Principal, Dwight Township High School), Hattie Llewellyn (Principal, New Berlin High School), Dr. Tron Young (Principal, Joseph Arthur Middle School), Dr. Marcus Belin (Principal, Huntley High School), and Abir Othman (Associate Principal, Victor J. Andrew High School). These innovative, fast-paced sessions provide a unique way to hear from dynamic speakers who will inspire fellow leaders.
Small group sessions at the conference include timely topics such as: Race Relations in Schools; Practical Steps for Transforming School Culture; Trauma Informed Care; Leading through the Lens of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; Attendance, Chronic Absence, and Equity; Building Leadership Teams; and legislative and legal updates. Conference attendees can also explore the online exhibit hall for the latest in educational products and services, and resource materials from sponsors such as AMBA (Association Member Benefits Advisors), ECRA Group, Good for Schools, Horace Mann, Illinois Principals Foundation, Lifetouch School Portraits and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. For more information about the Education Leaders Conference, please visit ipafc20.zerista.com. For more information about IPA, please visit www.ilprincipals.org.

The Illinois Principals Association is a leadership organization which serves over 5,800 educational leaders throughout the state of Illinois and whose mission is to develop, support, and advocate for innovative educational leaders.











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