Pritzker, IDPH put high school basketball season on hold

Basketball is among a group of winter sports that has been put “on hold” by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions at news conference in the South Austin neighborhood earlier this month.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions last Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Basketball is among a group of winter sports that has been put ‘‘on hold’’ by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

‘‘As with sports in the fall, nothing is ‘canceled,’ just put on hold until we’re through the thick of this pandemic,’’ Pritzker said in a statement.

Pritzker announced the decision at a news conference Tuesday that appeared to blindside the Illinois High School Association, which is holding a special board meeting Wednesday. It was scheduled to make an announcement about winter sports after that.

‘‘We know that this virus is of most concern when people are indoors with high contact, especially in vigorous situations that bring about heavy breathing, like in wrestling, hockey and basketball,’’ Pritzker said. ‘‘Sports played at a distance, like tennis, can be played. And sports that can be modified to have virtual elements — like dance, for example — offer more leeway in this moment, and the IDPH guidance reflects that.’’

Basketball practices were scheduled to start Nov. 16 and games Nov. 30. There is now no target date for either to begin.

‘‘I was surprised to hear something today; like most people, I was expecting something tomorrow,’’ said Evanston senior Blake Peters, a Princeton recruit. ‘‘I think a timetable would make us all feel better. We are in limbo. The reality is, a lot of seniors are still looking for a scholarship.’’

The IDPH’s new guidelines raise basketball from a medium-risk sport to a higher-risk sport. That means competitive games can’t be played until the state hits Level 3 of the IDPH’s guidelines. Higher-risk sports are currently at Level 1. The IDPH has not detailed how the state moves between levels, and the current level hasn’t change since the guidelines were released in late July.

‘‘This isn’t the news anyone wants to hear,’’ Pritzker said. ‘‘And it is not news that I want to deliver. But this virus remains dangerous and deadly to kids and parents and especially grandparents, and this is the best thing we can do for the health and safety of families under the current circumstances. Life in a pandemic is hard for everyone.’’

Moving basketball up to the higher-risk level likely puts an end to club-basketball showcase events and evaluation camps such as the Pangos event that was held last weekend in La Grange with players from 10 states.

The IHSA rushed out a statement about a half-hour after Pritzker’s announcement.

‘‘About 15 minutes prior to Governor Pritzker’s press conference today, we were alerted that the [IDPH] has elevated the sport of basketball from a medium-risk level to a high-risk level,’’ executive director Craig Anderson said in the statement. ‘‘We remain considerate of the recent rise in positive COVID-19 cases in our state. However, in our meeting with IDPH on Friday, we felt that we presented multiple options that would allow for basketball to be conducted safely by IHSA schools this winter, many of which are being utilized in neighboring states who plan to play high school basketball.’’

It’s possible the IHSA will reveal a new sports calendar, with a later start date for basketball, after its board meeting Wednesday.

The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association released a statement that it was “very disappointed to learn of today’s decision by the governor and IDPH regarding the movement of basketball in Illinois to the high risk category. The National Federation of High School Sports currently has basketball classified as a medium risk sport.”

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