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Four parents sue Gov. Pritzker, IHSA over winter sports cancellation

Four parents of Illinois high school athletes filed a lawsuit against Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois High School Association in LaSalle County Court on Monday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses and answers questions from the media on the continued distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses and answers questions from the media on the continued distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Parents of four Illinois high school athletes filed a lawsuit Monday against Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois High School Association in LaSalle County Court.

The suit claims Pritzker’s cancellation of the winter high school sports season ‘‘is an unconstitutional violation of the Plaintiffs’ right to equal protection under the Constitution of the State of Illinois.’’ The suit seeks to bar Pritzker and the IHSA from enforcing the cancellation of the winter sports season.

‘‘[Pritzker] is using this emergency statute to create these restrictions,’’ said Laura Grochocki, the attorney for the plaintiffs. ‘‘They are supposed to have a rational basis. We are asking why high school sports have the restrictions and why college sports and pro sports do not. Is there a rational basis for the restrictions on high schools? Or is there something else at work here, why [colleges and pros] are allowed to play and high schools are not?’’

Trevor Till, the son of lead plaintiff Lisa Moore, took his own life in late October in Champaign. He graduated from Seneca in June. Till ran cross-country and track, was class president and participated in multiple school activities.

‘‘Trevor was devastated that he didn’t have his senior year track and pole vaulting season,’’ according to the suit. ‘‘The final blow was when winter sports were canceled. Trevor committed suicide on October 21, 2020, a proximate cause of which was Governor Pritzker’s restrictions on high school sports programs.’’

Kate Benton, another plaintiff, is the mother of two athletes at Downers Grove North. According to the suit, her children have been unable to be seen by college recruiters because of the cancellation of winter sports. Benton’s daughter, a basketball and softball player, ‘‘has suffered socially with no contact with peers, has lost most of her friends and rarely leaves the house,’’ according to the suit.

‘‘We are focusing on a very narrow issue,’’ Grochocki said. ‘‘We just want clarification from the courts on the way they are viewing this. If they were to rule against us, it would be a pretty significant difference in how they have ruled on equal-protection cases in the past.’’

Several lawsuits have been filed against Pritzker over his COVID-19 restrictions, but few have met with any success. A federal lawsuit against the IHSA was dropped in early October.

Pritzker responded to the lawsuit during his daily COVID-19 update Wednesday.

‘‘Professional sports and college sports have significant resources for protecting their players,’’ Pritzker said. ‘‘For creating social distance, for example, by having multiple locker rooms; by making sure they have plexiglass everywhere that they need to to separate the players; to test them on a much more regular basis than an individual high school or district could afford. That’s why there is a difference.’’

The IHSA declined to comment at this time.

Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health put basketball and other high- and medium-risk winter sports on hold in late October and said they wouldn’t be played until spring.

‘‘We aren’t saying these sports won’t be played,’’ Pritzker said in October. ‘‘We are delaying the play of these sports. We are saying do training, do conditioning. Even the high-risk sports, there are things they can do. It’s not like we are shutting the sports down. But these are all being moved into the spring with the hope that we will be seeing vaccines and treatments that will be effective.’’

The IHSA tried to plow forward and play basketball, as scheduled, but insurance companies wouldn’t insure the schools, forcing superintendents and school boards to opt out of the IHSA’s season.