Fall athletes lose despite Waukegan contract agreement

By Beth Werge

After a strike lasting nearly four weeks, the Waukegan Board of Education and its teachers’ union have reached a tentative three-year agreement that could put students back in the classroom as early as Monday.

Academic make-up days will be announced at a later date. But the fall athletes who missed a month of matches, games, and races won’t get to make up those events. And that means they are shut out of post-season competition.

For most of Waukegan’s high schools teams, the 2014-2015 season already has ended. Although some sports such as cross country have yet to hold their state competitions, the district’s athletes already would have had to qualify to move forward. Jumping into the state tournament without qualifying is not permitted in any of the sports despite the peculiar circumstances, according to Waukegan Public Schools spokesman Nicholas Alajakis.WAUKEGAN FAST FACTS

The programs affected include cross country, football, soccer and volleyball. Even the golf team lost its season because it plays in the fall. The loss of the fall season hit Waukegan’s boys’ soccer team particularly hard. The Bulldogs were in good position to advance in the post-season with a 7-3-1 record overall and 2-1 conference record going into the strike.

The girls’ soccer and the boys’ volleyball teams were not affected because those are spring sports in the state of Illinois.

Had the strike started after the commencement of playoffs season, the Illinois High School Association would have allowed teams to continue because playoffs are considered a single event.

“The seasons were essentially cut in half for a lot of our students,” Alajakis said. “So for the seniors who maybe thought they’d get a few extra games, that wasn’t the case. Our soccer team – which was a fairly talented squad – ended the season without them getting to compete for a regional title. All the teams had to forfeit every single game they missed.”

During the strike, Waukegan High School sports teams lost their games by forfeit as required by IHSA rules. The football team’s first missed game also was the first day of the strike. The team went 0-5 in conference face-offs, with four of those losses due to forfeit.

There are some options to make up missed games if both teams agree to a rematch. But it’s nearly impossible to bring a team out four weeks late – and it’s not going to happen if the opposing teams are in the state playoffs.

The lost season is particularly painful for senior athletes who lost their last shot at attracting attention from recruiters, school officials said.

“Unfortunately, we had a lot of forfeits and missed games and senior nights,” Alajakis said. “It’s one of those things where looking back several years from now – maybe the memories aren’t as fresh, and you don’t think they mean so much, but at that moment it’s a big deal. They’re missing out on these milestones.”

The district’s plan is to resume activity for all winter sports, officials said. And if the tentative contract is ratified, the Waukegan girls’ swim team, which has been training through the fall, will be able to get back to the pool in time for the state tournament.

“The biggest thing is getting the students and the school year back to normal,” Alajakis said. “Whether that’s in the classroom, (or) on the athletic fields, the fact that our students can resume their normal day-to-day lives is a great thing for them. Our students are the ones that suffered the most throughout all of this.”

All schools in the Waukegan Community Unit School District will remain closed Friday as both parties review the agreement. If the contract is approved, teachers will return to work Friday to prepare for classes Monday, Nov. 3.