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DuPage County judge denies parents a temporary restraining order against IHSA’s Return to Play guidelines

DuPage County Judge Paul Fullerton denied a temporary restraining order against the Illinois High School Association’s Return to Play guidelines on Thursday.

Protesters gather together at the Let Us Play protest at the Thompson Center last month.
Protesters gather together at the Let Us Play protest at the Thompson Center last month.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

DuPage County Judge Paul Fullerton denied a temporary restraining order against the Illinois High School Association’s Return to Play guidelines on Thursday.

Three west suburban parents sought the temporary restraining order to stop the IHSA from enforcing the guidelines, which includes a new four-season sports schedule that moved football to the spring due to COVID-19. If granted, it would have put an immediate stop to the IHSA’s current schedule and the supervised practices out of season sports are currently conducting.

“We are in a pandemic and what the IHSA did was within their authority under their bylaws and constitution,” Fullerton said.

The parents’ class-action lawsuit filed in DuPage County Court on Tuesday claimed the IHSA broke its own rules when it changed the sports calendar in late July. The IHSA’s board of directors passed the Return to Play guidelines. There was not a full member vote of all 800 schools.

“[The IHSA] can’t simply issue guidelines without giving its members a voice,” argued Jeff Widman, the parents’ attorney.

IHSA attorney David Bressler said the change was made quickly to comply with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s orders and the goal was to give all sports a chance to play this school year in spite of Pritzker’s orders.

Bressler argued that the IHSA can make significant changes to its bylaws without a member vote in circumstances that are beyond control.

“What is more beyond the control than a pandemic?” Bressler said.

Bressler said that no member schools asked to vote and the schools were “unified” behind the change.

Widman argued that the schools should be given a chance to “comply or defy” with Pritzker’s orders on their own.

The parents involved in the lawsuit are Dave Ruggles, Chris Warden and Kelly Ridges. Coaches and parents launched a Let Us Play movement last month, and Ruggles has been an outspoken member of the movement. The group has held protests all around the state in the last few weeks.

“While the IHSA defended itself in court, our defense was not a rebuttal against expanding the participation opportunities for high school athletes in Illinois,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “The IHSA has and continues to believe that we can safely conduct high school sports in Illinois throughout the 2020-21 school year. We are already conducting cross country, golf, swimming and diving, and tennis this fall, with a plan in place to run all sports in modified seasons this school year. If changes to that schedule are forthcoming, we feel that the path to achieving them is through collaboration with the Illinois Department of Public Health and state leadership, as opposed to litigation.”

Several of Fullerton’s remarks in the decision on the temporary restraining order ran contrary to what the parents and the Let Us Play advocates have been saying in press releases and news conferences. About two hours after the decision the parents announced they intend to drop the lawsuit.

“We have to recognize that we are in a pandemic,” Fullerton said. “The last pandemic we had of this type was 100 years ago. Clearly we are in extraordinary circumstances. When things like this happen people take action. What the IHSA did was at least within their bounds. Sports are super important. I get it. But drastic times call for drastic remedies.”