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Illinois High Schools Association’s letter to member high schools

The past few days have been eventful to say the least, given the IHSA Board of Directors decision to move forward with the basketball season this winter, and the Governor’s declaration of a spring basketball season.

We understand that the decision by the IHSA Board of Directors to proceed with the high school basketball season bordered on unprecedented. Wednesday’s decision was not meant to be an act of defiance against the Governor, IDPH, ISBE, or anyone else. 

Simply put, our Board did what they believed was right for high school students in Illinois. 

Each Board member represents over 90 high schools in their respective districts, and the feedback they have heart within their regions is that there are schools ready to begin playing. They realized this wasn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for all IHSA schools. They also recognized that their decision would create difficult decisions at the school and school board levels, decisions of which they are not immune from either. 

Even more than the feedback that some schools are ready to play, the Board has heard your reasons on why you want to play. Not a single one references winning a State Championship or Sectional title this year. No, the issues that educators continue to highlight to us revolve around their students’ mental health, depression, dropout rates, inability to protect kids who are playing out-of-state on travel teams, and kids who are more prone to trouble without the structure of a team and season. 

The IHSA unequivocally believes that participation in athletics and activities has direct positive correlations to our high school students having better attendance, higher grades, and most importantly, developing into better young people as they advance from students to become citizens in our communities. 

Our students need this participation now, more than ever. 

The IHSA has shown since last March that we will not sacrifice student safety to achieve that goal. We have displayed an abundance of caution, trusted science and doctors, and attempted to build a partnership with the state and IDPH. While we continue to build that relationship with the state and IDPH, it was time for our Board to respect the commitment of our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and move forward with their guidance. 

The IHSA has and continues to recognize the seriousness of the pandemic. Yet, frustration remains as we watch so many surrounding state high school associations find ways to work with their state governments to safely make more sport opportunities available. 

I am not necessarily always a proponent of thinking that Illinois should get to do something because (insert state) does, as it is not always an apple to apples comparison. However, after seeing opportunities for Illinois high school students hindered based on inconsequential or unrelated studies feels inexcusable, especially as a University of Wisconsin study analyzing high school sports from this past fall is seemingly given no merit.

At this juncture, I have directed our staff to follow the direction provided by our Board and prepare for a basketball season this winter. In the future, the Board will need to address accommodations allowing schools unable to play basketball this winter to play at another time. I know that questions about potential repercussions by the Governor or ISBE against schools who play basketball continue to swirl, and wish I had answers to quell those fears. As I have said several times over the past few days, the Boar understood that their decision would create tough decisions for you locally, but it was important to them that you recieve that opportunity. Once again, we understand the difficult position we may have put you in, but I truly believe the Board’s motive was in the best interest of our students. Please let me know how the IHSA can be a resource for you on this subject, or any other, as you navigate it locally. We welcome your feedback on how we process as a membership.

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