Governor's hoops call doesn't block IHSA

In defiance of Gov. JB Pritzker’s guidance, the Illinois High School Association announced Wednesday that it will proceed with a winter season schedule for boys and girls basketball.

In a statement, the IHSA Board of Directors said it based the decision on the recommendation of its Sport Medicine Advisory Committee, which requires masks to be worn by all players, coaches and officials during play. IHSA officials took issue with Pritzker’s announcement Tuesday that basketball had be reclassified as a high-risk sport instead of a medium-risk one, thereby excluding it from competitive play. While mindful of the rising number of cases, the board said the season can be conducted safely.

“In August, the board slated basketball to take place from November to February based on the Illinois Department of Public Health assigning a medium risk level to the sport. The IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee offered additional mitigations, such as masks during play and social distancing on benches, that the SMAC believed would allow basketball to be played safely,” the statement reads. “The board has not been presented any causal evidence that rising COVID-19 cases make basketball more dangerous to play by the IDPH or any other health organization nationally or internationally. On the contrary, the IHSA has been looking to bordering states who have sponsored both medium-risk and high-risk sports in the fall that have noted a low incident rate of COVID-19 spread.”

The board also voted to move the sport of wrestling, in the high-risk category from the outset, from winter to the summer season, which runs from April 19 to June 26, 2021.

Hinsdale Central athletic director Dan Jones said the ultimate decision to play will be a local one.

“It’s going be up to local school districts and local health departments to determine if they play or not,” Jones said, indicating it was premature to forecast Hinsdale High School District 86’s plan. “It’s what our conference will do, what our county will do and what our school district will do.”

Under the IHSA plan, teams can begin practice on Nov. 16, with games allowed within an Illinois COVID Region or within a conference starting Nov. 30. No more than 50 people would be allowed in a gym.

Pritzker indicated Tuesday that his updated guidance was informed by the recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases.

“We can’t ignore what is happening around us — because without action, this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring.” Pritzker said.

Also speaking at the press conference, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said COVID-19 cases across Illinois are increasing and that close-contact sports pose too big of a health risk.

“The more people you are in contact with, the longer you are together and the closer you are together, the greater your risk of getting COVID-19. Being face to face with another person for a basketball or football game puts players at higher risk of getting and spreading the virus,” Ezike said.

The winter sports of bowling, girls gymnastics, boys swimming, cheer and dance are designated as low risk activities and cleared for intra-conference, regional or intra-league play, with the possibility of state championship games, as long as masking and social distance rules are enforced.

The IHSA said its decision gives local authorities the opportunity to make their own decisions.

“Illinois is a large and diverse state, and the IHSA membership is reflective of that. We understand that this decision will impact each high school and district differently. Some schools who remain in remote learning may not be able to start winter sports on time, and we feel for those in that situation. However, we have also learned that we cannot continue to look down the road to a season that may never come,” the statement read.

Pritzker’s office had not released a statement in response to the IHSA decision when The Hinsdalean went to press.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean