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Still No Gameplan For School Sports This Fall

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After reversing course and prohibiting physical contact, the Illinois High School Association is now trying to determine if and how to allow fall athletic events. 

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to convene our board of directors for a meeting the week of July 20 to have some really frank discussion about where we’re at, what the limits are currently, what the limits will look like. We have to make some decisions and get that communicated back to our membership,” said Craig Anderson, the IHSA executive director. 

The not-for-profit, quasi-governmental organization oversees high school sports in Illinois. 

The IHSA eased restrictions in July, allowing for things like contact scrimmages for football. But just days later, it changed course and instituted more rules.  Schools that had scheduled scrimmages and other summer activities, like 7-on-7 football, had to hit the brakes. 

Along with no contact drills, masks are required indoors and when social distancing is not possible.  A 50-person limit on gatherings includes athletes, coaches, officials and spectators.  These rules could still change before the fall sports season begins. But with COVID-19 cases rising again, there’s no guarantee the season will even start.   

Anderson said the new rules were finalized after conversations with the Illinois Department of Public Health and others in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration. He said he’s heard from some coaches and parents who are understanding, and even applauding, the changes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  Others have questioned limiting activities for younger people.  

One of those parents is attorney Thomas DeVore.  He has three daughters in the Hillsboro School District.  One plays volleyball and another is a cheerleader. 

DeVore filed suit on their behalf in Montgomery County court claiming the changes will cause “immediate and irreparable harm” to the rights of student-athletes. He also argues the IHSA has no power to enforce the mandates on schools and that decision should be made in the state legislature.  

“The governor’s office comes back at the IHSA and says you have to add these things. You’re required to add these things,” said DeVore, who has taken the state to court over the governor’s executive orders related to the pandemic. 

He’s also the attorney in a case in Adams County, arguing against students being required to wear face masks and undergo temperature checks this fall.   All the cases, he adds, are about who has the authority. 

“So if our children need to wear masks in school, if they need to do social distancing, if we can only have groups of 50 or less, let them vet it on the floor of the General Assembly. Let people listen,” he added.

Anderson and the IHSA aren’t commenting specifically on the lawsuit.  But he said the decision to add restrictions came after a few school districts reported more positive test results among their athletes.  Some even canceled summer activities altogether. 

Schools are already struggling with figuring out how to get kids back in classrooms this fall.  The Illinois State Board of Education has laid out certain guidelines, like wearing face masks and social distancing.  As hard as that is to accomplish inside a school, it can more difficult on an athletic field. 

For those questioning if sports should be a priority, Anderson has a response.

“I think students benefit from activity participation when they’re doing it, along with their education. Many of our students will lose the incentive to push forward and continue on and be challenged in the classroom if the ability to participate (in sports) is not going to be there,” he said.

Still, the clock is ticking.  Most fall sports begin practices in early August.  Anderson admitted that date could be pushed back slightly.  Seasons could be modified in length and some sports might even be rescheduled for later in the school year.  All of those options and more are on the table. He indicated the final call needs to be made soon. 

“I anticipate before the end of July those decisions will be made,” Anderson said.

Sean Crawford is the news director at NPR Illinois in Springfield.

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. We recommend checking the Coronavirus Information Center for the most recent numbers and guidance.

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