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It's on! Looks like prep basketball is finally a go in Illinois!

Earlier today the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors agreed to go forward with the 2020-21 basketball season. It will be up to each individual school to allow their basketball teams to participate as long as the programs following the guidelines developed by the IHSA Sport Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) the 120 year-old organization announced after a special meeting.

SJO head basketball coach Kiel Duval
Head coach Kiel Duval watches his squad in the Spartans home game against Williamsville earlier this year on January 7. The IHSA said it would go ahead with the winter basketball season despite the Illinois governor's statement yesterday nixing the season, at least putting it on hold until the infection level in the state is more manageable. Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks
"After diligent discussion, the Board has made the decision today to follow the recommendation of the IHSA SMAC as it relates to basketball," the IHSA said in a combined statement by board members. "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. 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."

Using the guidance provided by the SMAC, the Board will allow Boys and Girls Basketball to begin practices on November 16.

Both boys and girls teams can begin competitive play on November 30th within each of the designated Illinois Department of Public Health's COVID Regions or between member schools of a conference. Teams will be limited to just 31 games this season.

"I was pretty excited when I heard it," said returning varsity starter Ty Pence. The St. Joseph-Ogden sophomore received his first official college offer from Western Illinois University on Saturday. "I am ready to go out and see what my squad and I can do this season."

The 2019-20 Spartan basketball roster was bulging with ten seniors. It will be interesting to see how much the contingent matures this season.

"I think it is a great opportunity for us as a squad," Pence said. "We have a lot of young guys who have to prove themselves."

SJO head basketball coach Kiel Duval is also excited about the upcoming season, now that it looks like there will be one.

"We have a lot of young guys we need to see grow. You can see it taking place gradually now, but after practice and games there could be huge strides," he said. "High School is not a fun time for students right now. There are no athletic events to attend. No homecoming. Not seeing your friends everyday or in the capacity you usually do. This would be huge news for their spirits."

The move forward by the IHSA in the face of rising infections across the state and Governor JB Pritzker's declaration almost 24 hours earlier that put winter sports on an indefinite hold and moved basketball from a medium-risk sport to a higher-risk sport within the IDPH guidelines. Despite the rise in positive cases both locally and statewide in the past weekm and with their finances in jeopardy without the revenue from football and volleyball state finals this fall, the IHSA put its cards on the table hoping for the high hand.

"This would be great news for our kids if it actually happens. Our guys have put a lot into this," Duval said. "It has given them something to look forward to."

After the IHSA released their intentions, Governor Pritzker countered with a wildcard, looking at a possible flush, in enforcing his mandate.

"The school districts know what the rules are," he replied when queried about the plans to pursue winter competition. "It is unfortunate, but I think they would probably be taking on legal liability if they went ahead beyond what the state has set as the mitigation standard."

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