PEORIA — On a day when high school sports was on the brink, three of the Peoria area's elite athletes thought about why they play, professed their passion for the games, and displayed a selfless understanding of the big picture.


"I can't remember a time when sports wasn't in my life," said Kewanee Wethersfield football, basketball and baseball star Coltin Quagliano. "But I understand why this has to happen. We'd rather see people live without sports, than die with sports."


High school sports stared COVID-19 in the eye Wednesday, but the pandemic didn't blink. Things will go on, but not as normal for Quagliano, Aden Sears, Kam Wollard and other athletes in high schools all over Illinois.


"Those Friday night lights in the fall are special," said Quagliano, 17, a senior QB-CB, point guard, and shortstop-pitcher. "We had nearly our whole team coming back. It was exciting. We got together and talked about it. We're happy to have something, thankful to be playing a little."


Football will be reduced to a shorter schedule next spring, with no promises the state will ever complete its playoffs. It is scheduled to end two days before baseball and track begin their journey into late June.


"At least we'll get to play," said senior Eureka High School receiver/corner back Aden Sears, also a state medalist in multiple track events. "We really wanted to have a normal football season. There's just something about it, the Friday night lights, standing out there with your buddy next to you, homecoming, the crisp air.


"I'm going to really miss that.


"But I think what I'm worried most about is the kids who want to play football, track and baseball. That's going to be rough on them."


Wollard is a three-sport athlete at Illinois Valley Central. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior is a receiver-free safety, a small forward and a shortstop-pitcher.


"It's not ideal, this (IHSA) plan," Wollard said. "I commend the IHSA for their effort. I don't know what I'd do without a football season. It's such a passion for me. I started playing flag football at age 7."


Quagliano's sports journey started even earlier.


"I was 3, hitting baseballs in our basement," he said. "The fun, that's what intrigued me. Sports brought our family together. It's something we all did. I just kept taking it to the next level.


"Every day, hit a baseball, throw a football, shoot a basketball. I'm truly blessed to be where I am today because of sports.


"I started my own business, teaching fundamentals and leadership in sports to little kids. I want to help build a good person, and what it means to be a part of sports.


"I love whatever season I'm in."


And whenever that season gets played.


Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.