Daily Journal Staff Report
In a glimmer of progress Thursday, members of both the Illinois High School Association and Illinois Elementary School Association met virtually with members of the Illinois Department of Public Health and Gov. JB Pritzker’s office ahead of next week’s IHSA board of directors meeting.
Members of both the IHSA and IESA met with IDPH director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz and IDPH chief of staff Justin DeWitt Thursday night in a step IHSA executive director hopes can help launch some progress as youth sports seek a return amidst COVID-19 mitigations and restrictions.
“We appreciate the dialogue with state leadership and believe it is crucial that it continue moving forward,” Anderson said in a press release issued Thursday. “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 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.”
The IHSA said the primary reason for Thursday’s meeting was to discuss mitigations the IHSA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee began working on last fall ahead of the original start of the winter sports season.
“We believe that 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 the mitigations provided by IDPH and the IHSA 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.”
While the tone of Thursday’s press release was somewhat positive, an email sent from Anderson and the IHSA to administrators across the state was much more somber.
In a copy of the email that was obtained by the Daily Journal, Anderson’s outlook was much more bleak, stating that the meeting “highlighted that we have a long road back for the return of IHSA sports.”
“ ... It was very clear in the meeting that IDPH has not yet given much thought to the return of sports,” Anderson said. “I don’t mean that as an insult in any way, as they certainly have more pressing priorities. However, in my mind, it does reiterate how a willingness to collaborate with and allow us to share some of the burden early on may have eased this process for all involved.
“It is what we have wanted since the beginning but was not in the cards for whatever reason.”
Anderson went on to say in the private email that his own opinion is that low-risk sports, which include boys and girls bowling, competitive cheer and dance and boys swimming and diving for the area, will not resume until COVID-19 positivity rates are lowered, which is what Pritzker and the IDPH have insisted for the past several months.
“In my opinion, it feels like the return of any low-risk high school sports is dependent on positivity rates declining, which would obviously vary from region to region across the state,” Anderson said. “The prospect of playing any medium or high risk sports this school year remains unknown.
“The IHSA is going to have some very difficult decisions forthcoming, and we will do our best to inform you and seek feedback as best as we can as we navigate an uncertain 2021.”