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Benson: Time for Pritzker, IHSA to stop acting like kids and start thinking about the kids

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BALL IN AIR

The ball is literally up in the air on when a high school basketball season will be played in Illinois as Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois High School Association presented different scenarios this week.

Enough, already. My head is starting to hurt.

High school sports in Illinois have been thrown into chaos this school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Football, volleyball and boys soccer were pushed to a February start while we saw neighboring states proceed with those same sports this fall.

Did they know something we didn't?

Golf, cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming were allowed to continue here in Illinois, but with several restrictions and no state tournaments. Seems odd you can have a sectional and be considered safe, but no state final because someone might have to drive in their car a little longer.  

Turns out, that was the easy part to understand.

This week, the adults making decisions in the so-called "best interest" of the student-athletes have turned into the children. If this back and forth squabbling happened in a classroom, both sides would be sent to the vice-principal and forced to serve a couple detentions.

If you didn't think basketball was the king in Illinois before this week, think again. Stopping the football season was one thing.

Tinkering with hoops is another story. Remember, March Madness began here in Illinois, regardless what the NCAA wants you to believe.

"All My Children" is no longer a soap opera on ABC, but it has been reenacted here in the Land of Lincoln. The current episode began on Tuesday.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the Illinois Department of Public Health had moved basketball from medium risk to high risk. Thus, Pritzker said the basketball season was being put on hold until the metrics of the coronavirus — such as positivity and hospital rates — started to decrease and it would be deemed safe to play.

Even though Pritzker didn't say why basketball was medium risk Monday and suddenly high risk Tuesday, pausing for a while to get things under control seemed plausible. COVID-19 appears to be digging in its heels for a long battle until a vaccine is produced. That second wave we kept hearing about has arrived.

The only problem was Pritzker's people evidently told the Illinois High School Association of his decision about 15 minutes before the news conference. The IHSA submitted plans it formulated with its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to the governor's office and IDPH to safely conduct basketball, but evidently there were no negotiations.

Everyone assumed the IHSA would go along with the governor and IDPH, much like it did in the summer. 

Maybe the IHSA got mad at Pritzker for not keeping them in the loop and blindsiding them with his announcement Tuesday. Doesn't sound like it was the first time. Maybe the IHSA got sick and tired of coaches, parents and fans blaming them for altering the fall schedule and knew stopping basketball would be shattering.

Probably a little bit of both.

So the IHSA dropped its own bombshell Wednesday. The IHSA Board of Directors met and determined it would go ahead with boys and girls basketball as scheduled (practices beginning Nov. 16 and the season Nov. 30) despite what Pritzker decreed. 

However, the IHSA said it would be up to each school district to determine whether it would play. You could hear school board members everywhere saying "thanks a lot."

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The Illinois State Board of Education chimed in later Wednesday. In a release, ISBE president Carmen I. Ayala said: "Defying the state's public health guidance opens schools up to liability and other ramifications that may negatively impact school communities."

In other words, do you want to see your school funding cut?

Before local school boards could decide their course of action, Pritzker evidently felt the need to double down. He disclosed during his Thursday presser that high school basketball would be moved to the spring when, hopefully, the pandemic is on the decline.

Confused? Join the crowd. Imagine what those 14- to 18-year-olds are feeling.

The next step is anyone's guess. The adults in the room — in this case, the governor's office and IHSA — need to call a truce. Set up a meeting and get this thing hashed out once and for all.

Grow up, please, before it's too late for the kids ... you remember them, don't you?


Contact Jim Benson at jbenson@pantagraph.com.

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