IHSA faces lawsuit over guidance for return to play during COVID-19 pandemic

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A southern Illinois lawyer has filed a lawsuit against the IHSA and Hillsboro Community School District 3, seeking to end the IHSA’s recently released guidance regarding high school sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawyer, Thomas DeVore, is the same lawyer who has represented state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, in a lawsuit against Gov. JB Pritzker and the state's stay-at-home orders.

DeVore and Katya King are named as plaintiffs on behalf of two unnamed minors and “minor children similarly situated” throughout the state. The lawsuit was filed in Montgomery County court.

DeVore is asking for a temporary restraining order that would prevent the IHSA from enforcing new restrictions.

The IHSA released its updated Phase 4 guidelines Thursday, further limiting contact drills and physical contact among athletes. The IHSA said Thursday it is awaiting approval from the Illinois Department of Public Health on the updated guidance. According to the IHSA, the newest guidance requires everyone to wear a mask, except for athletes who are outside and socially distant.

Masks will be required for all indoor activities, and indoor activities are limited to 50 people, including referees and coaches. Scrimmages will not be allowed in any sport that requires physical contact: basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, water polo and wrestling.

The lawsuit claims the IHSA and executive director Craig Anderson “have promulgated rules beyond their authority and which are otherwise in violation of Illinois law.” It goes on to say that the IHSA’s limitations cause irreparable harm to children who should have the right to access sporting activities.

Athletes “are forced with the dilemma of either accepting the IHSA and Anderson’s rules, or be denied the opportunity to engage in sporting activities,” according to the lawsuit.

DeVore did not respond to a request for comment. The IHSA released the following statement from Anderson:

“We are aware of the lawsuit and do not plan on commenting on ongoing litigation at this time,” Anderson said. “All of our efforts remain focused on working with the top medical professionals in the state to try and provide the safest framework possible for the return of our students to IHSA sports and activities in 2020-21.”

While speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Pritzker noted that the state’s executive orders have prevailed against almost every challenge in court.

Pritzker did not speak directly about the IHSA lawsuit but expressed confidence in the state’s policies. The IHSA said Thursday that further restrictions are necessary "as directed by IDPH and Gov. Pritzker’s office."

“Every situation in which the executive orders have been challenged – at the federal level, at the state level – with the exception of one court in Clay County, but in every other situation, the courts have sided with us because we are in a national emergency,” Pritzker said. “We are in a disaster declaration within the state of Illinois. We have, as everybody can see, a deadly pandemic that is among us, and so we have to act accordingly.”