IHSA and IESA staff members met virtually with Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz and IDPH Chief of Staff Justin DeWitt on Wednesday night to discuss the rest of the interscholastic sports year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All sports remain on pause at this time.
The IHSA and IESA leadership used the meeting to reintroduce recommended mitigations from the IHSA Sports Advisory Committee (SMAC) and to seek understanding on any preliminary insight the IDPH had on a return to interscholastic sports.
The IHSA board of directors meets Jan. 13.
The IHSA adjusted its sports seasons from three to four last summer when the IDPH initially assigned risk levels to each sport: fall (Aug. 10 to Oct. 24), winter (Nov. 16 to Feb. 13), spring (Feb. 16 to May 1) and summer (May 3 to June 26).
The fall season had boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming, all listed as low risk. But spikes in COVID-19 numbers in November delayed the start of any winter sports, which still have not yet started.
“We appreciate the dialogue with state leadership and believe it is crucial that it continues moving forward,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said. “We understand that the state faces shifting priorities as it continues to fight the pandemic, while also beginning the distribution of the vaccine.
“There was no expectation that a single meeting would resolve all our questions. However, we believe that a collaboration with state officials is vital for the IHSA to be able to develop an informed plan for the 300,000-plus student-athletes and over 800 high schools that encompass the Association.”
All IHSA and IESA sports remain on pause. Low-risk sports may not begin until the state returns to Phase 4 in the All Sports Policy.
The IHSA and IESA told the state leadership they believe sports can be played in a manner which is safe to participants.
“We believe there is both data and science that validates the idea that we can safely conduct sports,” Anderson said. “We have seen it work in other states and believe it can in Illinois if we utilize mitigations provided by IDPH and the IHSA’s SMAC. Students are already leaving or participating out-of-state on weekends. We believe that competing for their high school remains the safest venue for participation.”
Wrestling, a high-risk sport, already was moved from winter to the summer season. The low-risk winter sports – bowling, girls gymnastics, boys swimming, cheerleading and competitive dance – are waiting for their start. Girls badminton was moved from the spring to winter and also is waiting.
Boys and girls basketball, listed as a high-risk sport, would not have been allowed to compete yet under IDPH guidelines. At this point, time for a winter season is running short.
“Our board of directors is going to have difficult decisions to make regarding the seasons for medium- and high-risk sports very soon,” Anderson said. “With no specific IDPH timeline or statistical benchmarks established for the return of sports, and the calendar shrinking, putting together a puzzle that allows for all sports to be played becomes increasingly improbable. We continue to urge all residents of our state to be diligent in their efforts to adhere to safety guidelines, as a lower positivity rate remains the key to athletics returning.”