SALINE COUNTY -- The Illinois High School Association's decision Wednesday to permit high school basketball this winter left school districts and the state with a jump ball of sorts.
IHSA announced that it will permit regular basketball this winter with COVID-19 mitigation efforts such as wearing masks and social distancing on benches enforced. The IHSA announcement was a day after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced Tuesday that he was changing the categorization of basketball to a "Level 3" sport, meaning only drills and practices can be held. Games would not be permitted.
After the IHSA announcement Wednesday, Pritzker followed up with a Thursday announcement that basketball will be moved to spring.
The announcements have left school district with no clear answer to whether basketball can happen this winter.
"In my opinion, I feel like the IHSA announcement puts districts into a very difficult decision," Eldorado Superintendent Ryan Hobbs said. "I have the feeling that the IHSA decision means very little. They have no legal authority, and unless they say they're going to cover our liability, we're not going to be able to do it. The state board of education is who we're dependent on for funding. ... Until we hear something from the state board of education about being able to participate, I don't feel like there's going to be anything different. We're not putting the district at risk."
Harrisburg Superintendent Mike Gauch said his district also is waiting to see what will happen.
"We're going to have to see what the liability is. I'm growing increasingly frustrated, like 99.9 percent of our parents, about the state telling us it's our decision to go to school but we can't make the decision to have basketball," Gauch said. "They shouldn't be able to tell us on one hand, it's our decision, and then the next day, it's not."
The Carrier Mills-Stonefort school district, which is a member of the Greater Egyptian Conference, said too many details have not been addressed.
"First, IHSA did not make a decision. They said we should be able to play basketball in masks, have frequent breaks and other mitigations," CMSF Superintendent Bryce Jerrell said. "On the other side, the ISBE superintendent sent a message said it was not deemed safe to participate. We're not setting up ourselves for legal liability."
Jerrell said the GEC plans to have a meeting Monday to determine how that conference will go forward. He said he has concerns about all districts acting uniformly.
"If some districts play and others don't, will we see students move to another district so they can play?" Jerrell asked. "Or, if no district in Illinois is playing, are we going to see families move to another state, like Kentucky?"
Jerrell, himself a former high school basketball player, said he also said he felt that playing in a mask will be an added challenge.
"As much as I like basketball, I wouldn't want to play in a mask," he said.
And, if winter games are held, attendance will be almost nonexistent by state regulations currently in place, he said.
"Besides the team, if we have home cheerleaders, coaches and their staff, school administrators, referees and all the other people required to be there, if groups have to be 50 or fewer people, we're going to have, what, five fans? If we have a home game, are we going to say we'll let in three fans from Carrier Mills and two from Crab Orchard?" he questioned. "Right now, there are too many variables."