By Mike Miazga

Correspondent

After numerous weeks of circling the airport so to speak, there now is more clarity on where area high schools stand on the subject of starting not only the boys and girls basketball seasons, but winter high school sports in general.

One major caveat here is any news that comes out of today’s Illinois High School Association Board of Directors Meeting.

During a virtual update session on Nov. 11, the IHSA board announced it formally invited representatives from Governor Pritzker’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health to attend today’s meeting. The IHSA also is seeking representation at the meeting from the Illinois Principals Association, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, the Illinois State Board of Education and a coalition of nearly 200 school superintendents who recently contacted the governor regarding sports during the 2020-2021 school year.

As previously reported, the IHSA and the state are at loggerheads as it pertains to basketball. The state board of health recently downgraded basketball to a high-risk sport, meaning teams can only engage in non-contact practices and training, but no games. On the flipside, the IHSA had previously greenlighted basketball with COVID-19-related guidelines/rules put in place (including wearing masks at all times).

The boys and girls basketball season was scheduled to start this past Monday per the IHSA’s revised COVID-19-related calendar. The IHSA announced teams that do choose to start this week must adhere to the state’s high-risk rules until at least today.

An IHSA press release last week noted the board plans to provide more direction on basketball practice and games following today’s meeting.

York athletic director Rob Wagner said the Elmhurst high school is postponing basketball until further guidance from the IHSA and IDPH, but said girls bowling, girls gymnastics, boys swimming and diving, competitive cheer and competitive dance, were scheduled to start practices on time this past Monday. Those teams, he added, are to play an abbreviated conference-only competition schedule.

IC Catholic Prep athletic director Michael Fahey told the Independent the Elmhurst-based school is putting basketball on hold until it hears from the IHSA after today’s board meeting. Fahey added the school has received no official word from the Diocese of Joliet yet. The Diocese of Rockford, which governs familiar ICCP foes such as Elgin St. Edward, Woodstock Marian Central and Aurora Central Catholic, previously said it is canceling the basketball season.

“Although we have no official from the Diocese of Joliet, we most likely will not be playing basketball if it goes against the state’s guidance,” Fahey added.

Fahey said boys bowling and competitive dance were slated to start practicing this past Monday. The first boys bowling match is slated for Nov. 30 at Bowlero in Glendale Heights against Hinsdale South.

Timothy Christian superintendent Matt Davidson said Timothy is positioned to play, but is entirely on hold until getting further direction from the IHSA coming out of today’s board meeting.

“The IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has always demonstrated utmost responsibility and care in their health protocols,” Davidson told the Independent. “Historically, they have been the flagship on health issues for high school athletics. They have a reputation of providing research-based, thoughtful and practical health guidance for our schools with concussion protocols, heat, hydration, steroids and asthma, and the state of Illinois, until now, has always shown a great deal of deference to the IHSA on health matters. The IHSA is also concerned about the mental health of the youth in Illinois, which is another factor in their decision-making.”

Davidson noted there are other state in the country that have recently completed full fall sports seasons, including football, and have already started basketball without major interruptions.

“Timothy used all of our allowable basketball contact days this fall with the boys and girls team without a single positive case,” Davidson noted.

Timothy Christian Schools, which comprises preschool through 12th grades in three separate buildings on its Butterfield Road campus on the south side of Elmhurst, has had students learning in the building full-time since August (though students are given a remote learning option), which now encompasses a nearly 13-week stretch.

“Moreover, our school has been in-person for almost 13 weeks with a tremendous level of success,” Davidson added. “Big picture; It’s simply worth noting that there are medical experts and scientists across the country with the same degrees/endorsements/credentials, and even from the same medical schools with competing views on all this.”

Davidson would like to see a health task force in the state made up of differing opinions and “then compromise on some common ground,” he said. “There seems to be too much like-mindedness in our decision-making related to COVID, and not enough openness to differing expert opinions. Please sit down at a roundtable with a panel of expert with differing views and ask for plan before anyone can leave. We can figure this out.”

Davidson brought up the point of a potential logjam  in the IHSA calendar year schedule if basketball is pushed further back into the winter or to the state’s spring and summer seasons. “As a practical side note, most of America’s high schools rely heavily on multi-sport athletes,” he said. “It would be a burden on our rosters and even our facilities to pack everything into a super-spring season. For example, I can’t imagine either of my boys having to choose between basketball and baseball when they were in high school.”

Davidson said he does not think the basketball season will start in 2020, “but I’m hoping for a winter season, perhaps starting in January,” he said.

DuPage High School District 88, which comprises Addison Trail and Willowbrook, is pausing all winter sports while it monitors the virus statistics, which once again last week showed alarming levels of deterioration in terms of numbers of infections and hospitalizations.

The district sent out a communication to families noting that while winter sports were scheduled to begin Nov. 16, the district, based on DuPage County’s current status, is going to continue analyzing data to determine the best time frame to begin. The district added it plans to run all winter sports, but the start date for those seasons is to be determined. The district cited DuPage County being in the substantial community transmission level (minimal, moderate and substantial are the levels) for all six factors on the DuPage County COVID-19 School Metrics Guidance.

District 88 spokeswoman Dani Brink told the Independent the situation is fluid and changes can be made based on recommendations/guidance the district receives from health officials.

The district added in its communication to families that it is following the guidance and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the governor, the Illinois and DuPage County health departments, the Illinois state Board of Education and the DuPage Regional Office of Education.

“At this time, we haven’t received approval from those organizations to allow boys and girls basketball to take place during the winter season,” the district wrote.

Fenton High School, now part of the Upstate Eight Conference with Bartlett, East Aurora, Elgin, Glenbard East, Glenbard South, Larkin, South Elgin, Streamwood and West Chicago, was part of a press release last week sent by the conference principals and athletic directors that noted member schools are required to follow the governor’s directives and wait until an agreement is reached between IHSA and IDPH. The UEC noted the IHSA has no governing authority over school districts. The release noted an agreement could mean “delaying the season, moving the season or, worst case, canceling the season.”

“While we know many families were hoping the school districts and the Upstate Eight Conference would allow for basketball to be played, our schools are required to follow the governor’s directives and wait until an agreement is reached,” the release stated.

Fenton Athletic Director Becker said that while Fenton will not participate in basketball during the IHSA winter season, he did add that scenarios could occur where the IHSA moves basketball to the spring or newly created summer seasons, and that Fenton will continue to monitor COVID-19-related statistics going forward. “Hopefully they will move the season and we will see where we are at with the surge and the number of cases,” he said.

Becker added the school also will not hold bowling, gymnastics or swimming seasons. Becker said with bowling and swimming, those sports are conducted at off-campus facilities, which presents further complications. “It’s one thing if we are holding it here at our location, but we are sending students to other venues and we don’t have control over who comes in and out of these facilities. Safety first.”

These developments also come on the heels of IDPH’s suggesting individuals, for a three-week period starting last week, stay at home as much as possible, leaving only for necessary and essential activities, such as work that must be performed outside the home, COVID-19 testing, visiting the pharmacy and buying sundries. That suggestion came on a day where 12,657 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in the state were announced (with a seven-day state positivity rate of 13.6%; in late August the number had dropped to 4.3%), plus the revelation that 145 additional people had succumbed to the virus.

When asked by the Independent if the scheduled Nov. 16 practice start date (this past Monday) and the Nov. 19 board of directors meeting were impacted by this IDPH recommendation last week, an IHSA spokesman replied, “They do not impact IHSA sports.”

The IHSA board revealed that among the 546 schools who responded to a recent survey (the IHSA has 813 member schools), nearly 300 IHSA schools do not plan to start basketball on Nov. 16, and another 212 schools remain unsure of their status.

 

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