Illinois High School Association passes basketball decision to local school districts

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The high school basketball season is back on in Illinois.

A day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker elevated the sport to the “high risk” level, effectively postponing the season, the Illinois High School Association held a special meeting Wednesday to give the green light to proceed despite the governor’s order. The Illinois High School Association, or IHSA, governs high school sports in Illinois.

The IHSA will allow boys and girls basketball to begin practices on November 16, and games can begin on November 30. The IHSA said masks will be worn by all players, coaches and officials during play.

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said it is important to have basketball during the winter months.

“Without basketball in the winter, we were going to have a really big hole in our winter season with limited activities for kids,” he said.

The IHSA left the final decision on basketball to school districts.

“It will become a local school decision to determine if a school will allow their basketball teams to participate following the guidelines developed by the SMAC,” the association said.

Pritzker said school districts would be taking a legal risk by allowing basketball.

“It is unfortunate but they would probably be taking on legal liability if they went ahead and moved beyond what the state has set as the mitigation standard,” Pritzker said.

The IHSA said basketball could be played safely with changes, such as requiring masks on the court.

“The IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) 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 association said in a statement.

It also said it has not seen any evidence to warrant the high-risk designation from the state.

“The Board remains considerate of rising COVID-19 cases in Illinois and understand the importance of adhering to safety guidelines for the good of all citizens,” the statement said. “However, 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.”

Pritzker on Wednesday said that he was he has been relying on national organizations and physicians to make his decisions.

“I would suggest that if there’s a difference of opinion, I prefer to error on the side of health and safety,” the governor said.

He also said that school districts know “what the rules are.”

School district officials will be meeting with athletic directors and coaches in the coming days to formulate a plan for the season.

Kristen Weikle, superintendent of Unit 5 in Normal, plans to attend a meeting with other superintendents in the area and an IHSA representative on Thursday to find out more about the decision, the district said in a statement.

“We will then talk with our athletic directors in the coming days and determine our plans,” the district said.

The IHSA board also approved the winter sport guidance for all low-risk sports, including boys swimming and diving, cheerleading, bowling and gymnastics. Wrestling will be moved to the summer season and will begin in April.

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