For some, youth sports is a path to a different life and COVID-19 has sideline those dreams

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HARVEY, Ill. — Youth sports in Illinois remains sidelined until the governor’s office decides if and when athletes can get back in the game. For so many students, youth sports is not just about staying active, it’s a way out — a path to a different life.

Jonathan Rodriguez is 17, has a 4.0 grade point average and has been playing for Thornton Township’s varsity soccer team since he was a freshman.

His dream was to play division one soccer at Northwestern University. If the state doesn’t let him play with his high school team soon, his hopes of trading in his high school wildcats uniform for one of Northwestern’s is looking less likely every day.

“Soccer is what makes me, me. Without it, I don’t know what I would do,” he said. “It’s not just a sport, it’s a passion.”

Like so many high schools, Thornton Township in Harvey is not competing this fall — not even running drills or holding clinics with players. Rodriguez is lucky. He’s poised to become the class valedictorian in 2021but soccer is where his heart is and Division 1 is his dream.

Rodriguez, like the rest of his teammates, is stuck inside instead. With the team sidelined, he’s on his own. It was his primary outlet after school.

“That is where I spend all my free time, meet up with friends. now I just sit around,” he said. “I don’t even know what to do anymore. It’s homework, homework, class. It’s just not the same.”:10)

In Illinois, while the governor stands firm about no youth sports this fall, travel sports are often crossing the borders to play in neighboring states. Other sports have been greatly restricted. At the Rodriguez house, Jonathan feels left behind.

And scholarship money means everything to Rodriguez — his mother is unemployed and at home with him and his two sisters. His father works in a tire shop. Every dollar counts and Northwestern’s tuition is over $75,000 a year. So he is pushing himself and is ready to lace up his cleats as soon as it’s time to play again.

Until then, he’s is running drills by himself to stay in shape. No scouts, no coaches steering him toward the ultimate goal.

Rodriguez forced to navigate these uncharted waters himself — fearful soccer may no longer be a part of his future.

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