New COVID mitigations shut down indoor sports

Darren Kinnard

With the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations skyrocketing, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has announced the entire state will enter “Tier 3” mitigations at 12:01 Friday morning. Among the new guidelines set to go into place is a shut down of all indoor sporting and recreational activities, including youth and adult recreational sports.

That includes the sports deemed “lower risk” that were previously allowed to compete, such as bowling and cheerleading. It also includes the non-contact practices that were permitted for basketball.

“The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) recognizes that today’s announcement by Governor Pritzker will temporarily pause the IHSA’s winter sports season,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement released Tuesday evening. “We remain optimistic that these new mitigations, coupled with the emergence of a vaccine, will aid in creating participation opportunities in the New Year for IHSA student-athletes in winter, spring, and summer sports.”

School administrators and boards have been wrestling with what to do about the basketball season. Back in late October, Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) released new guidelines for youth sports, that included moving basketball into the “higher risk” category. That move meant not only were games not allowed, but practices were to be non-contact. A day later, the IHSA announced it was moving forward with the basketball season, despite the new restrictions, a move that ultimately left the decision up to the schools.

The IHSA announced last week that in a survey sent out to all 813 member schools asking their plans about basketball, nearly 300 of the 546 schools to respond said they would not be going forward with basketball. Another 212 said they were not sure. Liability for the schools that moved forward in conflict with the state guidelines is the major deterrent from playing.

This announcement comes two days before the IHSA’s regularly scheduled board of directors meeting, that the Governor and various state agencies including the IDPH and ISBE, the Illinois State Board of Education. The IDPH and Governor’s office declined the invitation.

“The IHSA Board of Directors will meet as scheduled on November 19, 2020, to continue plotting out potential paths for IHSA sport and activity participation through the remainder of the school year,” Anderson said in the release. “Although representatives from the Governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health will be unable to attend the meeting, today’s updated guidance from Governor Pritzker will aid the Board’s decision-making. We have asked Deputy Governor Ruiz and Dr. Ezike to engage with us in the near future, so that we can collaborate on developing a plan to safely conduct IHSA sports and activities as soon as possible. IHSA schools have been exemplary in adhering to state regulations throughout this pandemic and we hope that non-school programs will hold themselves to the same standard as we all put the long-term health and safety of our fellow citizens ahead of short-term athletic competition.”