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J. Thomas McNamara

    The Illinois High School Association Board of Directors voted today (Wednesday, Oct. 28) to move forward with basketball in the winter season despite the Illinois Department of Public Health risk change Tuesday.

    The Board released the statement below to explain and clarify this decision.  IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson scheduled a Zoom call with statewide athletic directors at 3 p.m.

    Here’s the IHSA statement.
    “The Illinois High School Association Board of Directors made the decision today to continue with the IHSA basketball season as scheduled in 2020-21.  In August, the Board slated basketball to take place from November to February based on the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) assigning a medium risk level to the sport.  The IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) offered additional mitigations, such as masks during play and social distancing on benches, that the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee believed would allow basketball to be played safely.
The high school basketball season was potentially put on hold on October 27, when Governor Pritzker announced that IDPH had changed basketball’s risk level from medium risk to high risk.
After diligent discussion, the Board has made the decision today to follow the recommendation of the IHSA SMAC as it relates to basketball.  The Board remains considerate of rising COVID-19 cases in Illinois and understand the importance of adhering to safety guidelines for the good of all citizens.
    However, 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.
    “Instead, we will require all IHSA basketball teams to adhere to those SMAC mitigations, and allow local school officials to make decisions related to participation.
Mounting challenges, from increased mental health issues among our students to a shrinking calendar that limits our ability to move sport seasons this school year, were instrumental in this decision to move forward with basketball as scheduled. We see our students regularly leaving the state to play sports, or covertly continuing to play locally.  Students can be better protected in the high school setting, and the Board remains steadfast that playing under IHSA rules and SMAC mitigation is the safest way to conduct athletics at this juncture.
Illinois is a large and diverse state, and the IHSA membership is reflective of that.  We understand that this decision will impact each high school and district differently. Some schools who remain in remote learning may not be able to start winter sports on time, and we feel for those in that situation.  However, we have also learned that we cannot continue to look down the road to a season that may never come.
    “Contact days for our teams this fall have been an incredible boon to our students’ well-being.  We fear for the mental health of students who attempt to traverse a long winter with no athletic outlet available.  So much about dealing with this virus has been learned in the past eight months, and this decision will grant the membership the opportunity to apply that knowledge during their basketball season.
    “Each member of the IHSA Board volunteered for this position because they are passionate about high school sports and activities, and the positive impact they have on our students’ physical and mental health, concludes the statement.
    I applaud the board for its decision to continue with basketball, despite the changes Gov. J.B. Pritzker and IDPH announced Tuesday.  As a 79-year-old who is the most vulnerable category, I will be masked and in the gyms covering games this winter.  There’s risk in everything in life.  I feel safer at games than I do other places.
    I’ll have more on this developing in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.  Once again, kudos to Executive Director Anderson and his board of directors.

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