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With basketball season in doubt, IHSA invites Pritzker, IDPH to next board meeting

The IHSA Board of Directors met in a virtual update session recently to review recent developments related to the high school basketball season, which is set to start with practices this coming Monday.

The board announced that it is formally inviting representatives from Gov. JB Pritzker’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health to meet with the board Nov. 19. Additionally, the IHSA hopes to have representatives from the Illinois Principals Association (IPA), Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and a coalition of nearly 200 school superintendents who recently contacted the governor regarding school sports during the 2020-21 school year.

The IHSA is asking schools that do choose to start practices on Monday to adhere to IDPH’s Level 1 guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic until at least Nov. 19. Level 1 allows for only no-contact practices and training.

“The board hopes to create a dialogue and build a more collaborative relationship with all the entities involved with developing sports policy in our state as everyone tries to navigate through the myriad issues caused by the pandemic,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said. “The board’s decision to move forward with the basketball season was not meant to be adversarial. It was rooted in a desire to receive more direct communication and data from our state partners. (The board) hopes all the groups will see the mutual benefit of increased discourse and be represented at the meeting on Nov. 19.”

The IDPH listed basketball as a medium-risk sport in July, but changed its status to high-risk two weeks ago, just a few days after the IHSA had met with the IDPH and presented what it felt was a workable plan to play basketball in a safe environment.

At the time it was announced that basketball was considered high-risk, Pritzker said the sport would be put on hold. The IHSA had already reformed its sports year from three seasons to four – fall (Aug. 10 through Oct. 24), winter (Nov. 16 through Feb. 13), spring (Feb. 16 through May 1) and summer (May 3 through June 26). Three fall sports – football (high), boys soccer (medium) and volleyball (medium) were slotted into the added spring season.

The IHSA, which had received limited feedback from the governor or the IDPH in prior months, stated a day after Pritzker’s announcement that it would go ahead with basketball as a winter sport.

Many school districts, however, have not committed to basketball for insurance reasons. Many insurance companies will not cover events not approved by the IDPH and ISBE, which would leave districts potentially liable for anyone who got sick at a sporting event.

The IHSA has 813 member schools, most of which play basketball. A recent survey revealed that nearly 300 (of 546 school responding) do not plan on starting basketball Monday. Another 212 were unsure of their status.

The board also cited rising COVID-19 cases in the state as a reason for the recommendation for member schools to stick to the IDPH Level 1 guidelines if they start basketball workouts.

“The board recognizes the difficult decisions it has placed on member schools regarding basketball,” Anderson said. “With the limited number of schools to begin their season on Nov. 16, (the board) believes it is prudent to adhere to IDPH guidance as they work with state officials to gain greater clarity on the metrics and mitigations required to conduct certain high school sports throughout the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.”

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