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Prep Sports

IHSA executive director hopeful high school sports will happen this winter

IHSA sent winter sports guidance proposal to Pritzker's office Friday

A decision on winter high school sports may be coming soon.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said more information about winter high school sports will be available "very shortly" at Wednesday's COVID-19 press briefing with Gov. JB Pritzker.

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said Wednesday that the IHSA and Governor's office have had recent conversations, but not anything he would describe as "active."

The IHSA sent its winter sports guidance proposal to the Governor's office Friday. Anderson is hoping to get a response by Nov. 1.

Practices for winter sports – which includes boys and girls basketball, wrestling, boys swimming, cheerleading, dance, boys and girls bowling and girls gymnastics – can start Nov. 16, according to the IHSA’s most recent Return to Play guidelines.

Contests can begin as soon as Nov. 30 for sports with a "lower" risk for contact.

"We don’t have daily conversations," Anderson said. "We shared our winter sport guidance, which was developed by our (Sports Medicine Advisory Committee) and sports administrators in our office. That has been shared with the Governor’s office. I believe that (Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz) has passed it on to the (IDPH) to review.

"We’re hopeful that by Nov. 1 we’ll have a response. We don’t have, and continue not to have direct conversations with IDPH. On occasion, I have emailed with and spoken to the deputy governor. But it varies, the amount of communication, but I wouldn’t characterize it as often."

Ezike said an announcement on winter sports would be shortly forthcoming.

“We will have all of that information released very shortly,” Ezike said in response to a question about the status of winter sports. "I know many people are waiting on that information. We can't delay, because decisions have to be made and people need to govern themselves accordingly.”

Anderson said that he cannot share specific details about the IHSA's guidance for winter sports, but he has a more positive outlook on the potential of sports classified as "medium" risk for contact, such as basketball, going on as scheduled than he did with those sports in the fall.

The four sports allowed this fall (boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys and girls cross country and girls swimming) were classified as “lower” risk sports in the state's three risk levels of sports. Football, volleyball and boys soccer were moved to the spring when the IHSA announced its modified schedule in July.

For the upcoming winter schedule, boys swimming and diving, boys and girls bowling and girls gymnastics are classified as “lower” risk. Basketball is “medium," while wrestling, cheerleading and dance are “higher” risk.

Anderson believes the "lower" risk sports will be able to compete without incident.

"In the fall, when we asked about volleyball, soccer and football, we generally got a quick no," Anderson said. "This time, we didn't get a quick no. That leaves me to believe there are at least some discussions about the possibility of us being able to do so ... so that gives me some hope.

"I don’t know what the timeline will be, but I hope it’s in a timeline that aligns with what the schools have already prepared for."

Anderson, however, said that there are still many unknowns. For example, could a rise in certain COVID-19 metrics lead to the ultimate decision? On Wednesday, the state announced 49 new COVID-19 deaths and the seven-day rolling average of Illinois’ positivity rate went up again to 4.6%.

"The conversation seems different at this point, although I have no idea where it will end up," Anderson said. "Are there certain metrics that they’re monitoring? We don’t know if there are going to be trends that make the decision on whether or not we can have competition. Only somebody in the medical field, according to Gov. Pritzker, is going to make that decision."

Medium-risk sports can currently hold practices and interscrimmage games, but contests between schools are not allowed, according to the state's All-Sport Policy.

"There would have to be some movement to get to the level that they can compete," Anderson said. "That’s really what we’re hoping to find out more about."

Near the end of Wednesday's press briefing, Pritzker said any decision about winter high school sports will be medically based but did not specify when one might be made.

“I know that they’re contemplating how best to bring things back and make sure that more sports, rather than less, can be allowed,” Pritzker said. “But that is a medical decision, just to be clear.

"It is not, should not be, a political decision. It should be a decision that’s made by people who understand better than any politician how this virus spreads and how it can spread among young people.”

Pritzker was on a phone call Tuesday with governors in states that have all experienced COVID-19 outbreaks associated with high school sports.

“I was on a call with a number of governors from around the country, both parties, and to the person, they have experienced outbreaks in high school sports or that had been caused by high school sports,” he said. "And that's something that they’re all looking at how to deal with – when they’ve already allowed it.”

Pritzker said the No. 1 concern remains the safety of everybody involved.

“Obviously, (COVID-19) has interfered with so many things that are normal in our lives,” he said. “I am obviously concerned to try and bring back or to expand the ability for people to participate in the things that they normally do. It’s a concern, for all of us, to make sure that not only kids but all of their families, and the teachers, are kept safe.”

Anderson said that he would like to see more opportunities for athletes, but it must not come at the expense of safety.

"We've received push back in the fact that we haven't moved against the Governor's guidance, but we want to be a good partner, representing over 800 schools, with government offices and (the IDPH)," Anderson said.

"It's our mission to stay on pace with them, and at the same time recognize the importance of activities for students and families. We hope to get back as quickly as we can, so kids can have those outlets and gain positive experiences. I'm with them in that regard. We want to see things and opportunities available to students where they can be done safely."

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