Hoops season in holding pattern

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The Illinois High School Association said last week that schools are allowed to make their own decisions about whether to participate in basketball this winter, defying guidance from the state that the sport be put on hold due to COVID-19.

The Illinois High School Association voted last Wednesday to allow boys and girls basketball to begin practices Nov. 16 and games starting Nov. 30. 

As part of the IHSA’s COVID-19 mitigation plan, all hoops players, coaches and officials must wear masks during play.

The IHSA vote came just one day after Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health moved basketball to the high-risk category – which permits only no-contact practices and training – of its guidelines due to the close contact of players and indoor play. 

Basketball was originally classified as medium-risk in the state’s sports guidelines issued over the summer.

“Being face to face with another person for a basketball or football game puts players at higher risk of getting and spreading the virus,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Right now, cases across Illinois and the country are increasing.”

The IHSA countered by saying it “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.”

Wrestling and hockey are also categorized as high risk by the IDPH, while cheer and dance are only categorized as lower risk if masking and distancing are enforced. 

Other low-risk sports – as classified by the IDPH – that can have conference, region or intraleague play and state or league championship games this winter are bowling, gymnastics, swimming and diving.

“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. “As with sports in the fall, nothing is ‘cancelled,’ just put on hold until we’re through the thick of this pandemic. We adapt as we learn.”

Also last Wednesday, the IHSA voted to move wrestling from the winter season to summer, which will run April 19 to June 26.

The IHSA said it was notified just 15 minutes prior to last Tuesday’s news conference of the state’s guidance change for basketball.

In response to a question about the IHSA’s decision, Pritzker suggested on Thursday that schools could face legal consequences if illness or injury results from sports play that is contrary to the state’s guidance.

Also following the IHSA’s decision, Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala issued a statement criticizing the IHSA for contradicting public health guidance. 

She also echoed Pritzker’s concerns about exposing schools to legal liability.

“Defying the state’s public health guidance opens up schools to liability and other ramifications that may negatively impact school communities,” Ayala’s statement read.

The athletic directors for Waterloo and Columbia are waiting for the IHSA and IDPH to sort all of this out.

“There are still a lot of hurdles to clear and we are waiting on more information and guidance,” Waterloo Athletic Director Brian Unger said. “We are cautiously optimistic that the state and IHSA can work together to make this safe for our athletes and all involved.”

Columbia Athletic Director Scott Horner shared the same sentiments on the matter.

“(We’re in a) waiting pattern, just like most others,” Horner said. “No decision as of now. Waiting on further guidance.”

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