IHSA's Anderson reacts to Pritzker's comments on high school sports

  • Despite rallies around the state calling for high school football to return this fall, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday it's not going to happen.

      Despite rallies around the state calling for high school football to return this fall, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday it's not going to happen. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The return of high school basketball in November is still up in the air.

      The return of high school basketball in November is still up in the air. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/16/2020 5:51 AM

The timing of Illinois High School Association executive director Craig Anderson returning my call Tuesday afternoon couldn't have been any better.

To high school sports student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans across Illinois holding out hope for the return of football, volleyball and soccer this fall, the result of that conversation couldn't have been any more unsettling.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Moments after Gov. J.B. Pritzker got done with a news conference in which he put the final nail in the coffin for any hope for the return of those sports this fall, Anderson acknowledged those dreams are dead, despite the growing number of rallies around the state calling for those sports to return before spring, as they are now scheduled.

"From the governor's comments today I don't see it being a possibility for football, volleyball or soccer to be played this fall," Anderson said.

Pritzker has been steadfast in not putting much stock in what other states around Illinois are doing, all the while making it clear that other states are still dealing with higher COVID-19 positivity rates than Illinois.

"We have the lowest positivity rate in the Midwest," Pritzker said. "Still too high. The states you are talking about all have very high positivity rates. Double-digit positivity rates in most. Those are states, fine, if they decided to endanger children and families in those states by allowing certain contact sports to take place that is their decision. It's not something that is good for the families and the children of Illinois."

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Time to move on? Yes, it is. So let's look at the immediate future as we know it.

Late last week, the IHSA sent a letter to Pritzker seeking permission for the IHSA and its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to resume control over determining the resumption of IHSA sports and activities. On July 14, shortly after the governor's office and the Illinois Department of Public Health made the IHSA roll back its reopening plan, the IHSA announced it was deferring to the IDPH, the Illinois State Board of Education and the governor's office on all return-to-play guidelines moving forward.

The state subsequently issued guidance for all sports, including those conducted by the IHSA.

Those guidelines call for four levels, with Level 4 being akin to Phase 5 of Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.

Level 1 (higher risk) sports include, among others, football and are limited to no-contact practices and training only. Level 2 sports (medium risk), which include basketball, volleyball, soccer and water polo, can scrimmage but no competitive play is allowed. Lower-risk sports, including golf, tennis, cross country and swimming, can play at Level 3, which is where we're at now. Those sports have forged on, with restrictions that include, at this time, no plans for postseason competition beyond one regional round.

But now the IHSA wants to regain control of all of the above.

Um, don't hold your breath on that one.

"We've had no response from the governor," Anderson said. "I talked to (Deputy Gov.) Jesse Ruiz this morning and he said I shouldn't expect a response from the governor. The response is that there will be no response to those permissions being granted anytime in the near future. We're hoping to get some response in October as far as basketball is concerned. Wrestling, we all know will be a tremendous challenge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"In terms of where we were hoping to make some headway, today was a setback. We're still in a holding pattern."

It also seems to put a dent in the IHSA board's decision on Monday to update its return to activities guidelines, basically allowing winter, spring and summer sports to be scheduled without limitations that were previously in place.

"It was more about trying to bring our school administrators a look at what our board is willing to permit in future seasons," said Anderson, who acknowledged that under the state's current guidelines, a Nov. 15 start to the basketball season simply can't happen.

And don't expect for the IHSA to go rogue anytime soon on all of this either.

"That would be a dangerous step for us, for our schools and for our students," Anderson said. "We've been good partners with the governor's office and the IDPH but we would like to have more frequent conversations.

"It's easy to look around and see all the activity in the states around us and to rightfully think why not us? Other states appear to be doing things successfully and that adds to the frustration.

"I will continue to commend the governor for our state keeping the (positivity) level down. Our schools will listen to the guidance and adhere to the guidance, much more than club activities which we all see doing things that go against the guidelines. Our members would do it safely and with oversight and guidance from the top level down at every school."

But it does not appear that will happen anytime soon.

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