BLOOMINGTON — The high school basketball season will play on as planned despite a surge in COVID-19 cases across Illinois.
The Illinois High School Association’s Board of Trustees made the decision to proceed during a special meeting Wednesday, one day after the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) elevated the sport to the high-risk category.
“Without basketball in the winter, we were going to have a really big hole in our winter season, with some limited activities for kids,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson, noting the organization was caught off guard by the IDPH’s basketball classification change.
“In terms of the safety, I think the guidelines put together by our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee really leaned themselves to making competition safe for students. They built off of a number of the recommendations and safety guidelines from the National Federation of High Schools and from other states. I think our board just reached the point to say, ‘Hey, we really need to give this a try for our students.'”
In a news release announcing the decision, the IHSA said the board has not received “any causal evidence” indicating the COVID surge makes basketball more dangerous. The organization noted bordering states have conducted high-risk fall sports with minimal spread of the virus.
Gov. JB Pritzker announced the IDPH’s changes to its youth and recreational sports guidelines on Tuesday, with close contact and indoor play cited as the reasoning for moving basketball from medium to high risk.
On Wednesday, Pritzker said the IHSA’s decision could result in possible court action.
“Well, we’ve told school districts what the rules are, and I think they all know,” Pritzker said. “The IHSA may have their views on it, but school districts know what the rules are, and I think that it’s unfortunate, but they would be probably taking on legal liability.”
The IHSA said it is following the recommendations of its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee that has determined basketball can be played safely with mitigation efforts such as requiring masks during play and social distancing on the benches. No more than 50 people would be allowed at the games.
“We don’t want to be adversarial with the governor’s office or with IDPH. We’ll continue to communicate with them, as we have way back into the summer,” said Anderson. “But with the board’s action, it has us going obviously in a different direction, which we hope will be for the betterment of our students and our schools.”
Basketball practices can begin Nov. 16 with contests starting Nov. 30. Teams can schedule up to 31 games, remaining within their conference or within their Restore Illinois region. The IHSA said it will allow schools to decide on their own if they intend to participate.
Before the IHSA’s announcement, Peoria Manual High boys basketball coach Willie Coleman said he thought “everything was on the right path” until the IDPH made its change.
‘You’ve got to respect that decision, because health is always first and we understand,” said Coleman. “Right now, we can’t do anything physical. So you just stay in contact with them and tell them to keep the grades up. We’re going to still have workouts three or four times a week to stay in communication with these guys and just keep praying. Hopefully we have a season.”
Dunlap athletic director Katie Cazalet said she remained as optimistic as possible for basketball after the IDPH decision.
“I always try and hold out hope for anything,” said Cazalet. “I think (Tuesday) was definitely a setback in the possibility of that happening. But up to this date the IHSA has done everything they can to to get our kids back to participating in into doing it in a safe manner.”
The IHSA did follow a recommendation to move wrestling – also considered high risk by the IDPH – from the winter season to next summer.