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Winter sports still on hold, IHSA to host pandemic Pow-Wow

The winter sports season is virtually on hold. Maybe, in another eight days, a number of high school coaches, athletes and fans will learn if they will be on the floor on November 30 playing their first games of the season. That's the news after the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors held a special virtual update session earlier today.

In a statement released by the IHSA, the Board also announced that schools who plan to begin basketball practice on November 16 should adhere to the Level 1 mitigations from the IDPH All Sports Policy until at least November 19. The high school sports association invited the representatives from Governor Pritzker’s Office, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), the Illinois Principals Association (IPA), the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and representatives from "a coalition of nearly 200 school superintendents who recently contacted the Governor regarding school sports during the 2020-21 school year" for pandemic sports pow-wow.

"The Board hopes to create a dialogue and build a more collaborative relationship with all the entities involved with developing sports policy in our state as everyone tries to navigate the myriad issues caused by the pandemic," Craig Anderson, IHSA Executive Director, said in the statement. "The Board’s decision to move forward with the IHSA basketball season was not meant to be adversarial. It was rooted in a desire to receive more direct communication and data from our state partners. They hope all the groups will see the mutual benefit of increased discourse and be represented at the meeting on November 19."

Adopting a noticeably softer tone, the IHSA says they will be able to provide more direction on basketball practices and games following the meeting for their 813 member schools.

Nearly two weeks ago Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that sports, normally played from November to March, would start their season in March. The recent rise in COVID-19 cases statewide and the governor's response toward mitigating the spread of the virus thus far makes it likely that if the season did get off to a start, it would have been short-lived.

In a survey with 546 schools who responded, nearly 300 IHSA schools do not plan to start basketball on November 16, and another 212 schools remain unsure of their status leaving roughly one-third of the organization in the pool of willing to play.

At a quick glance, the major drawback to districts ignoring the governor's guidance and moving confidently forward with the IHSA plan was the inability to secure insurance coverage. According to multiple sources, insurers were not willing to to cover schools that went against the IDPH and ISBE.

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Superintendent Jeremy Darnell issued a statement highlighting the liability exposure.

"The decision was made based on both the system and individual legal liabilities as determined by the GCMS School District attorneys and insurance providers," he said in a story in The News-Gazette. "Recently, both Governor Pritzker and Dr. Carmen Ayala (State Superintendent of Schools) have clearly stated that any district that directly defies the recommendations of IDPH, as it pertains to winter sports (basketball), would knowingly be putting their districts at risk both legally and financially."

The Peoria school board voted 5-1 to postpone the season according to the Peoria Journal Star.

"It’s not me desire to take anything away from the kids," Board President Doug Shaw was quoted saying prior to the board's vote. "But it seems it would be irresponsible from my point of view (to continue with a winter schedule). It’s an unpopular decision, but it’s the way we need to go."

The foreshadows in Anderson's final comment carries a bushel of uncertainty on a number of different levels.

"The Board recognizes the difficult decisions they have placed on member schools regarding basketball," said Anderson. "With a limited number of schools set to begin their season on November 16, they believe it is prudent to adhere to IDPH guidance as they work with state officials to gain greater clarity on the metrics and mitigations required to conduct certain high school sports throughout the remainder of the 2020-21 school year."

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