To Play Or Not To Play: That Is The Question

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Will they or won’t they? It sounds like a plot line from a soap opera, but in this case the drama has to do with what’s on the court, not on the television.

On Oct. 27, Governor JB Pritzker announced that the Illinois Department of Public Health had reclassified basketball, originally a medium-risk activity, as a high-risk activity.

The result of this reclassification was that teams were to be able to practice with masks, but were not able to play games against other teams. Governor Pritzker later stated that he would prefer that basketball be pushed back to the spring season, which would cause a major conflict for athletes as football, boys soccer and volleyball had already been moved to that season.

Following Governor Pritzker’s statement, the IHSA made it’s own decision on Wednesday, Oct. 28, as it’s board voted to move wrestling to the summer season (April 19 to June 26) and allow schools to participate in basketball in the winter if they decided to do so.

The first practices for teams who decide to take the IHSA up on winter basketball start on Nov. 16, with contests beginning on Nov. 30. The end of the regular season would be Feb. 6, with a postseason event scheduled for Feb. 8-13.

The IHSA board also released “considerations” for the 2020-21 basketball season. As they were during golf, cross country and girls tennis, schools may only play games within their IDPH COVID-19 region and against schools in their conference and meet IHSA contest limitations.

Players will be wearing masks during contests and a media time-out will be taken each quarter at the first dead ball under the five-minute mark to give players an opportunity to catch their breath.

All other coaches, administrators, timers, paid and volunteer game officials, cheerleaders and media members also must wear masks and count toward the 50 people maximum gym capacity that also includes players.

The considerations say that managers should work with their local health departments to consider whether spectators will be allowed or not, but the limit of gatherings to 50 people make the presence of fans unlikely. If allowed, spectators must maintain social distance throughout the gym and must wear masks.

Some schools have prepared for such an occurrence. Nokomis High School used the Hudl Focus video system to broadcast its girls and boys home games on YouTube last year to those not able to attend in person.

The smart camera automatically follows the action from the first whistle until the final horn and allows the school to upload the video or even livestream the game, as the Redskins did last year.

Hillsboro High School and Junior High School also purchased two Hudl Focus video systems as well, while Lincolnwood and Litchfield have discussed similar products in the past.

Other considerations include cleaning and sanitizing procedures, elimination of the jump ball (the visiting team will get first possession) and transportation guidelines. A complete list of the considerations can be found at IHSA.org.

But these considerations only matter in Montgomery County if someone is actually going to play. The superintendents and athletic directors of the four Montgomery County high schools were emailed Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 4, in regards to when a decision would be made on whether girls and boys basketball would be played this year. As of Sunday night, Nov. 8, three of the four had responded.

Dr. Scott Doerr of the Nokomis School District said that Nokomis is still gathering information and data right now and that its next board of education meeting is Nov. 17, unless a special meeting is called sooner by the board president.

Lincolnwood Athletic Director Joshua Stone said that at this time, the Panhandle School District is being patient and is letting the process unfold. Their next board meeting is on Nov. 16, the first day the practice is allowed to begin.

Hillsboro Superintendent David Powell and High School Athletic Director Aaron Duff both said that the issue is on the board’s agenda for Nov. 10, and hoped to be resolved at that time.

While they did not respond, Litchfield will also have a board meeting on Nov. 17, soon after the first day practices can begin.

The biggest stumbling block to playing basketball may be insurance liability.

“Defying the state’s public health guidance opens schools up to liability and other ramifications that may negatively impact school communities,” a letter sent out to schools from Dr. Carmen Ayala, State Superintendent of Education, read.

But if county schools can solve that problem, then some may opt to hit the hardwood. Either way it’s another tough decision in a year that has been full of them.

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