IHSA reps meet with state officials, but sports still on hold – Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette

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BLOOMINGTON — IHSA officials on Wednesday evening received their long-desired meeting with representatives of the governor’s office and Illinois Department of Public Health.

But, as IHSA executive director Craig Anderson wrote Thursday, it’s becoming hard to imagine that all of 2020-21’s unstarted high school sports seasons will commence.

“Our Board of Directors is going to have difficult decisions to make regarding the seasons for medium- and high-risk sports very soon,” Anderson said in a press release. “With no specific IDPH timeline or statistical benchmarks established for the return of sports and the calendar shrinking, putting together a puzzle that allows for all sports to be played becomes increasingly improbable.”

The IHSA board is set to meet this coming Wednesday.

The aforementioned virtual meeting included Anderson, IHSA and IESA staff members, IDPH director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz and IDPH chief of staff Justin DeWitt.

The event transpired on the same day that Anderson messaged the state’s athletic directors, informing them that a meeting had yet to take place and encouraging them to contact state representatives in an effort to make such a meeting happen.

Anderson and the IHSA have been outspoken about wanting to talk with state representatives since Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Nov. 17 announced enhanced COVID-19 mitigations that put a pause on prep athletics.

That included the IHSA board after its Dec. 14 meeting saying it planned to meet with representatives from the governor’s office and IDPH prior to 2021, though that did not happen.

“We appreciate the dialogue with state leadership and believe it is crucial that it continue moving forward,” Anderson said Thursday. “We understand that the state faces shifting priorities as it continues to fight the pandemic, while also beginning the distribution of the vaccine. There was no expectation that a single meeting would resolve all our questions.

“However, we believe that collaboration with state officials is vital for the IHSA to be able to develop an informed plan for the 300,000-plus student-athletes and over 800 high schools that encompass the association.”

Wednesday’s meeting included discussion about IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee’s pandemic mitigations. These were in place for the IHSA’s basketball and boys’ swimming and diving seasons, which technically began Nov. 16 before the government-ordered pause that the IHSA since has abided by.

Also in the meeting, IHSA officials asked Ezike and DeWitt to take another look at the IDPH’s risk levels for winter, spring and summer sports “with consideration for lowering some sports from their current risk levels,” according to the IHSA’s press release.

“We believe that there is both data and science that validates the idea that we can safely conduct sports,” Anderson said. “We have seen it work in other states and believe it can in Illinois if we utilize the mitigations provided by IDPH and the IHSA SMAC. Students are already leaving or participating out of state on weekends. We believe that competing for their high school remains the safest venue for participation.”

The most recent IDPH sports guidelines list basketball, football and wrestling as higher risk, soccer and volleyball at moderate risk and baseball, softball, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field as lower risk. Only lower-risk sports — such as cross-country, golf, girls’ tennis and girls’ swimming and diving in the fall — have been allowed to contest official events this school year.

Outside of Illinois, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association in Washington state announced Wednesday it will begin full seasons for football, volleyball and girls’ soccer and a partial boys’ soccer season on Feb. 1. This occurred after changes to Gov. Jay Inslee’s pandemic recovery plan.

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