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Basketball? Local schools, IHSA, Gov. Pritzker at odds

OPRF, Trinity, Fenwick uncertain about Nov. 16 practices

November 3rd, 2020 4:00 PM

By James Kay

Sports Editor

The Illinois High School Association and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have different ideas about the fate of prep sports this winter. And it is leaving athletic directors at three local high schools in an uncertain and awkward position.

Pritzker announced on Oct. 27 the Illinois Department of Public Health upgraded its guidelines to include basketball as a "higher risk" sport after it had been categorized as a "medium-risk" sport for months. He went on to say basketball was not "canceled" but just "put on hold." 

The IHSA, which was set to hold a special meeting the day after to discuss the different possibilities of high school sports this winter, alleges it was not aware of the governor and IDPH's announcement until 15 minutes before Pritzker's news conference. 

''About 15 minutes prior to Governor Pritzker's press conference today, we were alerted that the Illinois Department of Public Health has elevated the sport of basketball from a medium-risk level to a high-risk level," IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in a statement shortly after Pritzker's news conference. 

''We remain considerate of the recent rise in positive COVID-19 cases in our state. However, in our meeting with IDPH on [Oct. 23], we felt that we presented multiple options that would allow for basketball to be conducted safely by IHSA schools this winter, many of which are being utilized in neighboring states who plan to play high school basketball.''

On Oct. 28, the IHSA defied Pritzker and the IDPH's orders and released a statement that it will move forward with basketball this winter. Anderson said practices and games can start Nov. 16 and Nov. 30 respectively. Michael O'Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times also reported that Anderson stated the IHSA didn't discuss the legal ramifications of its decision.

In a public game of cat and mouse, Pritzker announced on Oct. 29 higher-risk sports would be pushed to next spring or summer, giving a timetable for when sports like football and basketball could return to play. This was a response to criticism that the state was leaving athletic departments and their teams hanging with an indefinite postponement. 

Where this situation gets more complicated is the decision to follow Pritzker's orders or the IHSA's defiance is, at the moment, in the hands of school district officials. The question people are raising is what happens if one school decides to move forward with basketball on Nov. 16 and a school within the conference chooses to wait until the spring to start its season. 

While it is expected athletic directors in the same conference will meet to get on the same page, time is of the essence with the IHSA starting basketball up in two weeks. There are also liability issues surrounding the potential of COVID-19 spreading if teams were to compete indoors this season. 

For now, Oak Park and River Forest High School, Fenwick High School and Trinity High School are still processing what their next moves are with this situation. 

OPRF provided the following statement to Wednesday Journal: 

"The situation regarding the winter sports season is fluid," said Jackie McGoey, communications and community relations coordinator, in an email. "We are collaborating with other area schools and are in touch with our legal team to determine the best path forward for our student-athletes."

Fenwick also said it is still figuring out its situation for this upcoming season. 

"Fenwick is trying to process all of the information and the many changes that are coming our way day to day," the school said in an email to Wednesday Journal. 

"As more information becomes available from the IHSA, the State of Illinois, the Chicago Catholic League and Girls Catholic Athletic Conference, Fenwick will be able to more clearly evaluate our options moving forward. Fenwick High School and the basketball program will always put our kids first when making decisions. We will continue to update our families as we get closer to the IHSA start date of Nov. 16. We appreciate your patience and understanding during an uncertain time." 

Trinity's athletic director, Ken Trendel, spoke with the Journal, saying the school is also processing the new information as it comes and has had preliminary meetings on what comes next. 

"Right now, we are weighing all of the options and figuring out what the best course of action is going to be," said Trendel. 

"It's a tough situation for everyone right now. This is uncharted territory for everyone and, whether it is the state of Illinois or the IHSA, this is something none of us have ever gone through before."

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