IHSA Side Steps Governor, Attempts to Save Basketball, Wrestling Seasons

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — Game on, in more ways than one.

One day after Governor JB Pritzker says the youth basketball season was on hold, the Illinois High School Association put it back on. The IHSA board voted Wednesday to keep the prep basketball season in tact, giving the power to local school districts to decide if they want to play.

In a special meeting of its board of directors, the IHSA decided to allow basketball teams to participate following the guidelines developed by its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Masks must be worn by players, coaches and officials during play.

At his Tuesday COVID press briefing, Pritzker announced the basketball season would be put on hold as the Illinois Department of Public Health had moved the sport from moderate-to-high risk. According to IDPH guidelines, teams in high risk sports cannot compete in games, play intrasquad scrimmages or have contact practices.

In a statement, the IHSA board said 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. On the contrary, the IHSA has been looking to bordering states who have sponsored both medium risk and high risk sports in the fall that have noted a low incident rate of COVID-19 spread.”

Schools will be allowed to play a maximum of 31 games. High school basketball coaches welcomed the decision made by IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson and his board.

“We have a mantra. We don’t want followers, we want problem solvers, we want critical thinkers. Mr. Anderson and the IHSA board are problem solving and critically thinking,” said Washington boys basketball coach Eric Schermerhorn. “They are leading by example.”

Practice is scheduled to start Nov. 16 with games beginning Nov. 30 around the state. This is the final week of offseason contact practices for basketball teams.

“I think there’s some hope going forward, knowing we’re going to be in the gym (Thursday) for our last contact day, knowing that hopefully on November 16th we’ll be able to practice and gather on the court again,” said Peoria Notre Dame boys basketball coach Tom Lacher. “So it’s really good for my guys mentally to know we have a chance here.”

Some teams admitted they left their practices Tuesday thinking their seasons were over before they began. Their opinions were different Wednesday.

“This fight is not over yet. I think it’s a move in a positive direction,” said Metamora girls basketball coach Brianna Morrow. “It proves how strongly people feel about athletics, getting kids on the field, looking at them mentally and physically. the good it does for them.”

Anderson acknowledged the season is far from a certainty even with Wednesday’s IHSA decision. The state could withhold funding from school districts that decide to play against the health department’s wishes.

“I really don’t know what is going to happen from now till Nov. 30,” Anderson admitted. “It’s a big deal to say to government officials and health departments that we are going to go a different direction from how you are advising. I have no idea how that is going to play out for us.”

When asked about the IHSA’s decision at his Wednesday COVID briefing, Pritzker replied, “We’ve told school districts what the rules are and I think they all know. “It’s unfortunate but (school districts) would probably be taking on legal liability if they went ahead and moved beyond what the state has set as the mitigation standard.”

In a separate move, the IHSA board voted in favor of a proposal to move the high school wrestling season to summer season. The season, which was scheduled to run from November through February, will now begin April 19 and go into June.

Washington High School wrestling coach Nick Miller was part of a four-person committee which wrote the proposal to move wrestling in hopes of saving the season.

“A moved season to the summer season, as we looked at it, that was the best option,” Miller said. “It is good news, it’s just a little bittersweet.”

Wrestling has been designated as a high risk sport by the IDPH since July.

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