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COVID-19 concerns force IHSA to shut down winter activities
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COVID-19 concerns force IHSA to shut down winter activities

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With Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker putting the state at a higher mitigation level for the COVID-19 virus, he has also effectively put the high school winter sports season on hold as well.

While not specifically calling out the Illinois High School Association to follow the mandates he laid out in a Tuesday afternoon press conference, IHSA officials did take it upon themselves to pause the winter sports and activities that started practicing on Monday for the scheduled season that was to begin on Nov. 30.

Gov. Pritzker did note that youth and adult recreational activities in the state were included in this latest Tier 3 mitigation mandate.

“The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) recognizes that today’s announcement by Governor Pritzker will temporarily pause the IHSA’s winter sports season,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson in a release. “We remain optimistic that these new mitigations, coupled with the emergence of a vaccine, will aid in creating participation opportunities in the new year for IHSA student-athletes in winter, spring, and summer sports.”

According to United Township High School Athletic Director Mark Pustelnik, school officials had not received specific instructions from IHSA officials Tuesday evening.

An IHSA board meeting is scheduled for Thursday and administrators are hoping for some direction coming from that. IHSA officials have reached out to government officials to join that meeting in hopes of creating a unified plan.

But Pustelnik confirmed that all activities associated with sports and other non-athletic activities will be shut down on Friday when the state's Tier 3 mitigations go into effect at 12:01 a.m. That means no team activities, including weight training or conditioning.

Practices for basketball had already been limited to non-contact work with face coverings required. Other winter sports that were deemed medium or low risk by state officials were also practicing with the hope of getting their seasons started in two weeks.

“Hopefully it will just be a two- or three-week halt,” said Pustelnik optimistically.

In the meantime, many Illinois school districts have either opted to go to full remote learning or been forced to because of situations involving the coronavirus.

State health officials reported 12,601 new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, the 12th straight day with more than 10,000 cases. Over the past week, Illinois has averaged 12,381 cases per day. In all, there have been 597,849 cases statewide since the pandemic began in March.

There also were 97 additional fatalities reported Tuesday, bringing the statewide death toll to 10,875. The state has averaged 84 deaths per day over the past week, the highest total since June 2. At the height of the first in early to mid-May, the state averaged more than 100 deaths per day.

The rising number of cases led the governor's office to reclassify basketball as a high-risk sport from medium risk. Gov. Pritzker then suggested the basketball season should be moved to a spring sport. The IHSA defied that decision and left school districts to decide their own paths for the basketball season. That has led to a split with some schools/conferences opting out and other school boards deciding to let their teams play.

Last week, the superintendents of Western Big 6 Conference schools chose to put the boys and girls basketball seasons on hold, but were allowing organized group activities.

Now, it appears as if everyone is on the sidelines, holding out hope for a season at this point.

Both Pustelnik and Moline boys basketball coach Sean Taylor said they feel bad for the kids caught in the middle of all of this.

“It's hard and I think it's hard for the kids,” said Taylor, noting he plans to have a scheduled lifting session on Thursday with his players unless he is told differently by his administration. “They're thinking there is a season and then told there may not be a season — it's just a bit of a roller-coaster for them. We're just trying to keep them as positive as possible. … The kids are resilient.”

However, the way things have played out in the last three weeks, that becomes more difficult to think there might actually be a season — even one that starts after the turn of the year.

As Taylor said, “it probably is wishful thinking” there will be a winter basketball season. "I'm thinking it will be spring or summer. I just think they are going to try to squeeze a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. I don't know how it will all work, but that's my gut feeling."

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