IHSA still wants to meet about sports start date; Gov. Pritzker says it will happen when appropriate

After a quiet period over the holidays, things are heating up again between the Illinois High School Association and Gov. Pritzker’s administration.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses and answers questions from the media on the continued distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in December.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses and answers questions from the media on the continued distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in December.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Things were quiet between the Illinois High School Association, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and the Illinois Department of Health over the holidays.

That changed this week. On Tuesday, state senator Andy Manar, who will resign his seat later this month and join Pritzker’s administration as a senior advisor, directed some pointed comments at the IHSA on a Springfield radio station. And on Wednesday, the IHSA issued a statement asking athletic directors to write letters to local politicians. 

Manar told Sports Radio 1450 AM that he believes Pritzker hasn’t given up on high school sports.

“If there is a way to do it and be safe they are going to do it,” Manar said. “I point to the graduation. If you remember the graduation outline the governor put out early on in the process changed over the course of the summer so that there were ways that school districts could have in-person graduation functions. That is because of the feedback administrators, principals, teachers, etc., gave to the governor’s office working in conjunction with public health experts.

“I don’t believe that has changed. If there is a way to do something, which was done in sports early on, the administration is going to find a way to do it. But it is going to be led with public health. That’s the best way to do it.”

Manar also indicated how poorly the IHSA’s bungled attempt to plow forward and play basketball as scheduled over the winter went over with Pritzker’s administration.

“I do not believe the IHSA has handled this situation well,” Manar said. “I’m going to say that as a state senator. I’ve made my opinion known about that. The idea that the IHSA would give direction to their members to go have sports, knowing that wasn’t going to happen and opening them up to legal ramifications for property taxpayers. To me, [it] is just a move that was really ill-advised. Unfortunately that was the case.”

Several schools attempted to follow the IHSA’s lead and play basketball over the winter but insurance companies wouldn’t insure the schools, forcing superintendents and school boards to opt out of the IHSA’s gambit.

IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in December that he hoped to meet with representatives from Pritzker’s office and the IDPH before Jan. 1. That meeting never happened.

Anderson sent an update to school athletic directors on Wednesday. He said that Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz “has indicated he is trying to get a meeting set up prior to the Jan. 13 IHSA Board of Directors meeting.”

Anderson then asked the athletic directors to reach out to “local representatives to consider supporting this effort. The General Assembly will be organizing again [Friday] in Springfield. It may be timely for us to collectively solicit support for this meeting.”

Anderson attached a generic letter with “key points” that the athletic directors could personalize.

It’s unclear what the IHSA believes a meeting will change. Pritzker has been clear that high school sports aren’t starting until spring. That was his opinion before the COVID-19 spike in December, so it is difficult to see why he would have changed his mind.

The IHSA’s calendar currently plans for football to begin in mid-February. Anderson has said that the IHSA may have to change its plans but as of now the IHSA has no plan in place for sports to begin in March, which seems to be the only realistic possibility at this point. 

“It’s not like there’s no discussion about sports,” Pritzker said on Wednesday. “It’s just that the IHSA, which is one of many organizations in the state . . . we have doctors and others that we rely upon internally to help us make decisions. When it’s appropriate to have a conversation with an organization, they’ll do that.”

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