IHSA basketball season still up in the air, masks or no masks
Mask, or no mask?
While that question continues to envelop our country, it is now seeping its way into the high school sports world -- specifically basketball, which is now a little over a month away from official practices beginning for IHSA schools.
The issue took center stage on social media and in many published reports Friday.
Basketball is currently considered a medium risk sport, according to guidelines issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health and Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office, meaning teams can scrimmage but not compete against other schools.
On a Zoom call Thursday which was organized by a private party, Dr. Preston Wolin, an orthopedic surgeon, who is a member of the IHSA's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, suggested the idea of a basketball season being allowed with all participants masked is being considered by the IDPH.
Reports went on to say that IHSA executive director Craig Anderson has said the IHSA would prefer to make masks optional for players, but might seek permission to play basketball with mandatory masks if the advisory committee supports that.
And boom went Twitter and every other social media outlet.
But hold on just a 3-point minute. Anderson refuted those reports and Wolin's statement when I called Anderson at his IHSA office in Bloomington Friday, not long after Anderson was contacted by deputy governor Jesse Ruiz on the matter.
"We believe the doctor misspoke," Anderson said. "SMAC is putting together some suggested guidelines and we think it's safer for kids to not wear masks (when playing basketball). (SMAC) has been asked to provide feedback on playing basketball in masks. If they support that position, there is a possibility that we would ask IDPH to approve it. However, if we believe it can be done safely without masks, our preference remains to begin basketball in November with masks as a player option, as opposed to being mandatory. But if the IDPH gives us a position of having a season with masks or no season, our board would have to consider it.
"But we do not prefer it."
Neither does Max Christie, the Rolling Meadows senior widely regarded as the best player in Illinois. Christie has played AAU games this summer with no mask, but he's required to wear a mask when he works out with his Meadows teammates during the IHSA's 20 contact days, which are currently ongoing.
"It would be really really difficult," said Christie, a Michigan State commit, of playing games masked. "There would be respiratory issues playing a full game with a mask on. I'm not completely opposed to it. I want to play. But it's been difficult in practice and it would take some time to get used to it. It would be a challenge."
Christie's coach, Kevin Katovich, agrees with Anderson.
"I think (masks) should be optional," Katovich said. "During contact days what we're seeing is the masks slide off. How would officials regulate that during games? We have a couple of kids with asthma and it would be even more difficult for them.
"I think we can do this safely and manage the risk. Everyone knows what's at risk. Kids want to play. Coaches want to coach. The kids are leaving school and piling into cars and going to each other's houses. To be naive and think kids are wearing masks all the time is silly. But if there are kids who want to wear masks, or parents who want their kids wearing masks, that's fine."
Katovich, like Anderson and Christie, remains open to playing the season with masks if that's what it takes to play.
"We're all adjusting to life with masks and while it's not preferable, what you find universally between coaches and players is that if that's the only way we can have a season we'll do it," said Katovich, who added, "I would argue that right now, schools are safer than they've ever been before," citing disinfecting procedures throughout school buildings which were unheard of prior to COVID-19.
The issue lies in the hands of the IDPH and the governor's office and if those bodies don't amend the current sport guidelines, there won't be a season -- masks, or no masks. That is a source of frustration for many, including Anderson and the IHSA.
"We're trying to engage a conversation (with the IDPH) to know more before our October 19th board meeting," Anderson said. "As of today we don't know about winter sports. It's really frustrating. Questions continue to come in asking us if we have been told about the metrics we're waiting for. We haven't heard anything. We're trying to get some answers. It's frustrating, yes. We're hopeful we can have some movement soon.
"Coaches, administrators, our staff ... and I continue to hear from parents a level of frustration not knowing about the future of sports."
And the wait continues.