coronavirus illinois

‘We're Ecstatic:' High School Athletes, Coaches React to IHSA's Vote to Allow Hoops Season

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After the Illinois High School Association voted to defy guidance from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office on the high school basketball season, players and coaches say they are excited to hit the hardwood, and to adhere to the safety protocols put in place by the organization.

Mike Hamilton and Caleb Corro are both seniors at St. Patrick High School on Chicago’s Northwest Side. When they heard the news that the IHSA had given the green light to the 2020-21 winter basketball season, they were pleasantly surprised.

“We’re ecstatic, happy and blessed right now,” Corro said. “We’re excited to play and our parents are happy to have us play.”

Hamilton hopes that getting back on the court will help students win athletic scholarships, just like he ws able to.

“If it was canceled, there goes our four years of work,” he said.

The teens’ reactions come after a shocking vote by the IHSA on Wednesday. Just a day after the Illinois Department of Public Health classified basketball as a “higher-risk” activity, the IHSA voted to allow the season to move forward, saying that the IDPH did not provide evidence to back up its classification.

“We have reached a point where we need to do something that is student-centered, and to get these students back to competing, and their opinion is that we can do it safely,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said.

Under the new guidance, practices can begin on Nov. 16, with games to follow on Nov. 30. All players, coaches and officials will be required to wear masks during games.

The IHSA says that it’s own health and safety committee determined that basketball was a “medium risk” activity, taking cues from other states that have not seen significant spread of the virus during athletic competitions in the fall.

“We’ve been practicing and working out with masks on the entire time,” Corro said. “Coaches are enforcing those rules, and we’re accustomed to working out with them.”

The decision goes directly against the state’s guidance on basketball. As a “higher-risk” sport, basketball practices were supposed to remain non-contact for the time being, but the IHSA’s decision likely puts the organization on a collision course with Pritzker.

In a letter addressed to state residents Wednesday, State Board of Education President Dr. Carmen Ayala warned that moving forward with the basketball season could potentially expose schools to “liability” issues.

Schools will be required to decide whether to participate in the basketball season, according to the IHSA guidance, and Anderson says that the organization will change its policies as necessary.

“We’ll figure out if this is a legal issue for our association or schools, and we will pivot as we have a number of times,” he said.

In the meantime, Jim Tracy, executive director of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, says that he, along with the student-athletes, are excited to get going.

“I was not only surprised, but encouraged and excited,” he said. “Games will be streamed in home gyms, and there will be opportunities for coaches to see our young people on that video.”

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