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Who’s in, who’s out? What Peoria-area schools are thinking about IHSA basketball

Dave Eminian
deminian@pjstar.com
Fans cheer on their team in the Illinois High School Association boys basketball state finals at Carver Arena in Peoria.

PEORIA — To play or not to play.

From big school to rural school, public school to private, they all face the same decision as the 2020-21 Illinois High School Association basketball season approaches.

The school districts are caught in the middle of a battle between Gov. JB Pritzker and his Illinois Department of Public Health and the IHSA.

"To be perfectly frank and blunt, our district feels like we have been pushed into an argument that is analogous to two crying toddlers fighting over a bag of toys," said Canton School District superintendent Rolf Sivertsen said, referring to the governor's office and the IHSA, in an email.

Pritzker and the IDPH re-categorized basketball as a high-risk sport and effectively canceled the 2020-21 season, then later modified their statement to suggest basketball would be played in the spring.

The IHSA defied those orders and declared basketball season would go on as scheduled, with practices Nov. 16 and games starting Nov. 30.

The governor suggested schools that choose the IHSA path might risk funding from the the Illinois State Board of Education.

The IHSA says it's playing in November as scheduled, that there is no guarantee conditions will be any different in the spring and that a spring schedule won't work anyway with so many sports already on the calendar there because of COVID-19 delays.

The IHSA left the decision — to play or not — up to its schools.

Peoria Christian is playing. So is Lewistown High School. Morton's school board has indicated it wants to play and will vote soon.

Illini Bluffs will decide at its upcoming school board meeting. Washington High School intends to start practices on Nov. 16 as scheduled by IHSA, but wants clarity from the state as to its guidelines before its school board makes a final decision.

Peoria Public Schools will decide at its meeting Monday.

Notre Dame High School is out, per a decision by the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

Sivertsen said he will make a recommendation to his board soon. He noted Region 2 is in tighter mitigations from the state because the region has crossed the 8% positivity threshold. Fulton County, he noted, is at 9.88%. He said his decision will be based on what happens to that COVID positivity rate, along with other metrics, in the coming weeks.

But he said a whole lot more.

"On one hand we have the governor’s office that refuses to share the state metrics that drove his decision to elevate basketball to a high risk sport (which is lack of transparency) and on the other you have the IHSA referring to their Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) as the body that helped them make their decision to defy the governors orders,“ Sivertsen said.

"Unfortunately, the IHSA using the advice of their SMAC committee to defy the governor's order is problematic since the body itself is comprised of three MD's, a chiropractor, athletic trainers, school administrators, and athletic directors — none of whom have extensive training or experience with virology or epidemiology.

"Most importantly, this controversy has placed schools at substantial risk and created a tremendous amount of disruption at a time when districts are struggling.

"For example, the governor has already made it clear that if schools conduct a basketball season they may incur a loss of funding by defying his orders.

"There is also the liability issue. This controversy has also pitted community members against each other — specifically, community members against local health departments and those that are either pro or con.

"Simply put, creating unnecessary community division during a pandemic is counterproductive to the administration and operations of any district.

"In our case our teachers are terrified of getting sick, exhausted, and struggling with on-line learning.

"Finally, what makes this a monumental tragedy is the fact that neither side has the fortitude to sit down, work this disagreement out, and compromise -- the adult in the room needs to intervene and solve this problem."

Morton School's board president Shad Beaty indicates the school board wants to play now, and Morton School's superintendent Jeff Hill suggests they might have the families of participating athletes sign an insurance waiver.

Peoria Christian School athletic director Cory Hynek noted his athletes had no superspreader events during contact days.

"Our kids need an opportunity to play," he said. "Our parents will make the final decision on what's best for their children. If they choose not to play, that's OK. But the kids deserve to have the chance."

Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.

Canton School District superintendent Rolf Sivertsen.