MAROA — It started with #LetUsPlay and now #HearOurVoiceIllinois is a rallying cry for Illinois high school athletes, parents, coaches and fans hoping that team sports will return quickly in 2021.
The campaign began with a post on Twitter by Maroa-Forsyth quarterback Wade Jostes on Tuesday that included a video of several Trojans players explaining why it was important that sports returned for them. The video concluded with a challenge to Williamsville, Rochester, Sacred Heart-Griffin, Mount Zion, St. Teresa and Jacksonville athletes to make their own videos explaining why the return of sports was important to them.
The initial video, edited together by Jostes, has been viewed nearly 25,000 times, and schools all over the state participated with their own videos.
Jostes took part in the Springfield #LetUsPlay rally but said changing the movement's message was important.
"The #LetUsPlay rally was mainly football-led and we had a couple other sports sprinkled in there. It was really led by coaches and athletic directors. Thinking about why those (rallies) weren't successful, the root of the problem was that the athletes themselves weren't showcasing why they needed sports," Jostes said. "The athletes themselves are the ones that are being affected the most by this. We wanted to put it out there and challenge other schools and other individual athletes.
"Hopefully we can spread it across the whole state and show the elected leaders that the athletes are affected by this. It has changed our lives and we need sports and extracurriculars to have positive mental health."
In the original video, several Trojans athletes shared their thoughts on sports delay over photos of the Trojans athletes and the sports facilities.
"Hear our voice Illinois. It is time to turn the lights on. We have waited our whole lives for this opportunity and not to be able to get it would be devastating," the voiceover in the video said. "We need to play for physical health, mental stability, scholarship and post-high school opportunities, to learn leadership skills, teamwork and unity, and it is fun to play with your teammates.
"According to the IHSA 300,000 students participate in sports and extracurricular activities. We are running out of time. Please do not fail the students of Illinois. The ball is your court, Gov. Pritzker, please let us play."
The success of the campaign hasn't been a surprise for Jostes.
"When there is a cause like this, you kind of expect it with how many people this has affected. It has affected 300,000 kids in the state of Illinois that participate in extracurriculars and sports," he said. "Everyone is very passionate about it and so I think it's not so surprising to see this."
Maroa-Forsyth senior Bryson Boes, who runs track and is a Trojans running back, pointed out that Illinois is the only state in the Midwest limiting high school sports.
"My teammates and I have been looking forward to our senior year our entire lives and not getting that opportunity would be devastating for us. It is not fair that the other states around us get to play and we do not," he said.
Spoke today w the #IHSA, which offers sport opportunities to 300,000 young people each year here in Illinois. Illini Basketball is supportive of the coaches & student-athletes in our great state, and we want to be a resource as IHSA continues working toward a safe return to play. pic.twitter.com/QAp5QEywRH— Brad Underwood (@CoachUnderwood) January 13, 2021
University of Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood, football coach Bret Bielema and baseball coach Dan Hartleb all had supportive tweets to the athletes.
"We want to reach as many athletes as possible and I've seen some college kids from Illinois voice their opinion about how they I got there," Jostes said. "It has been great to see the U of I coaches come out and voice their support with that kind of power and influence backing us, it is really good to see."
Maroa-Forsyth senior Michael Applebee plays basketball and football and answered the Trojans' video challenge.
"I play these sports because ever since I've been little I've been dreaming of playing underneath the lights and on the court with my best friends," he said in his video. "Without these sports, there would be no doubt that I would not be the person I am today. The lessons they have taught me will help me throughout my entire life."
Braves multi-sport standout Jonathan Oliger shared his thoughts in a video on getting some sort of senior season.
"I play baseball, football and soccer and I'm asking for one final opportunity to compete with my high school friends and teammates," he said.
Braves baseball senior Ethan Parker shared his concern that time was running out on the ability to have full seasons.
"I'm a four-year member of the baseball team as well as the president of the varsity show choir here in Mount Zion. Time is ticking and I want to get back on the field with my friends and my teammates," he said. "It is more than a game. Let us play Illinois."
No movement from IHSA
As more and more athletes shared their thoughts, Wednesday's IHSA Board of Directors meeting did not result in any high school sports schedules being released. A special meeting has now been scheduled for Jan. 27.
Maroa Forsyth football coach Josh Jostes is happy that no sports were canceled as a result of the Wednesday's meeting.
"I can't say I was surprised. I was really hoping that they wouldn't come out and cancel anything yet," he said. "There are a lot of options on the table and that is why I didn't think they should rush to a decision today because they didn't have all of the data from the Governor's office or the IDPH."
The additional delay increases the likelihood that seasons may overlap in the spring.
"It gets difficult for (the IHSA). Football has already been pushed back but basketball should be going on now," Josh Jostes said. "Which one of those gets canceled or do we start to overlap seasons and kids have to make a choice? At least we are still holding out hope, but I think that next board meeting is when things are going to have to start to be either canceled or overlapped. Students would have to choose and none of that is great.
"At Maroa, we would attempt to make it happen for kids. It is not ideal but nothing about the situation is."
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten