BLOOMINGTON — For months, the Illinois High School Association and Craig Anderson, it’s executive director, have been seeking a meeting with state leaders to collaborate on developing a plan to safely conduct high school sports and activities this school year.
Finally on Wednesday, members of the IHSA staff and the Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) met virtually with the Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Deputy Governor Jesse Ruiz and IDPH Chief of Staff Justin DeWitt.
Unfortunately for the student-athletes in the state of Illinois, the results of the meeting did not provide any answers as to when extra-curricular activities like sports would return from their hiatus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We appreciate the dialogue with the state leadership and believe it is crucial that it continues moving forward,’’ said Anderson in an official IHSA release. “We understand that the state faces shifting priorities as it continues to fight the pandemic, while also beginning the distribution of the vaccine. There was not expectation that a single meeting would resolve all of our questions. However, we believe that collaboration with state officials is vital for the IHSA to be able to develop an informed plan for the 300,000-plus student-athletes and over 800 high school that encompass the Association.’’
Currently, Illinois is one of six states that is not currently holding its basketball season nor has a plan in place to conduct its season.
Under the modified format announced at the start of the 2020-21 school year, basketball was to be conducted during the winter sports season which was to run from Nov. 16 until Feb. 13. Other sports that were scheduled for this season include boys swimming along with boys and girls bowling. All sports have been paused since Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a higher mitigation level back on Nov. 17,2020 and they will not start until the state returns to Phase 4 in the All Sports Policy.
Anderson acknowledged the prospects of all high school sports seasons this year are in jeopardy. The IHSA Board of Directors are scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.
“Our Board of Directors are going to have difficult decisions to make regarding the seasons for medium- and high-risk sports very soon,’’ he said. “With no specific IDPH timeline or statistical benchmarks established for the return of sports and the calendar shrinking, putting together a puzzle that allows for all sports to be played becomes increasingly improbable.
“We continue to urge all residents of our state to be diligent in their efforts to adhere to safety guidelines, as a lower positivity rate remains the key to athletics returning.’’
The IHSA and IESA used Wednesday’s meeting with the IDPH to reintroduce recommended mitigations from the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, as well as seek understanding on any preliminary insight IDPH may have related to the return of interscholastic sports. The IHSA also asked IDPH leadership to review risk levels of all remaining sports, with consideration for lowering some sports from their current risk levels.
“We believe that there is both data and science that validates the idea that we can safely conduct sports,’’ Anderson said. “We have seen it work in other states and believe it can in Illinois if we utilize the mitigations provided by IDPH and the IHSA SMAC. Students are already leaving or participating out-of-state on weekends. We believe that competing for their high school remains the safest venue for participation.’’
According to published reports, there have been 54 basketball players transfer to out-of-state programs to play this winter, including Landon Moore, Rickey Woods and DeMarco Clayton from Bloomington, Nelson and Noah Reynolds from Peoria Notre Dame and Ra’Shamiya Webb from Normal West.
Football, boys soccer and volleyball are scheduled to begin practices on Feb. 15 during a spring sports season, while baseball, softball, boys and girls track, along with boys tennis, girls soccer and now wrestling will tentatively start their seasons on April 19, 2021.