The Effingham Unit 40 School Board this week agreed to allow winter season sports, pending any further guidance from the Illinois High School Association (IHSA).

The decision explicitly provides that this is contingent on IHSA allowing these sports. If IHSA reaches a decision that these sports will not be allowed, Unit 40 will follow that guidance. The IHSA has a meeting planned for Thursday, Nov. 19 where they will discuss winter sports.

Meanwhile, Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday announced additional statewide restrictions to fight COVID-19 that might ties IHSA’s hand. The state’s new “Tier 3” mitigations go into effect on Friday. The new requirements include putting all indoor sporting and recreation on hold.

“The District will be looking into these changes in the next few days,” Unit 40 Superintendent Mark Doan said on Tuesday after the governor’s announcement.

Even before the mitigations were announced, Doan said that the basketball season in Effingham wasn’t solidified.

“A lot of it’s in limbo,” he said Tuesday morning, adding that he hopes that things are more clear by the end of the week.

Other area districts joining Unit 40 in waiting for further guidance.

“Everything is on hold until this meeting on Thursday,” said Andrew Johnson, superintendent of Jasper County Unit 1, on Tuesday morning.

“We’re just having some practice and waiting for some good news,” said Neoga’s Athletic Director Mike Taylor.

The lead up to the basketball season has been made complicated because of the pandemic.

“The coaches have had to change how operate,” said Unit 40 Activities Director Dave Woltman. “The kids have had to change the way they participate. It’s been a real challenge.”

Woltman also said that he doubted how easily he could plan a spring season for basketball, which is what the governor has advocated for.

“We have an issue where most of our athletes are doing three sports,” Woltman said.

When the board discussed the issue, several members cited personal experiences that affected their view.

“I felt safer at that basketball tournament than I do going to Walmart here in Effingham,” said Brad Waldhoff, describing a privately organized youth basketball tournament he attended.

“My husband had COVID,” said Jane Willenborg. “I was with him at his worst and I never got it.”

The vote was nearly unanimous, with only one person, Robin Klosterman, voting no. Steve Bone, Kathleen Smith, Jane Willenborg, Jill Wendling, and Brad Waldhoff all voted yes.

“I do have some issues, though, saying COVID isn’t that serious,” Klosterman said in the meeting. “Maybe that’s because we’ve had a death in our extended family from COVID. It wasn’t an elderly person, so you know, it does happen.”

The meeting opened with public comment from several parents and students, all of whom spoke in favor of a winter season for basketball.

“Everyone understands things are not the same as they were before and we just have to figure out how to manage it going forward. It’s not fair for our kids not to have the same opportunity other kids have in other states,” said Chad Thompson, a parent who spoke at the meeting.

“There’s been so much back and fourth from the leadership in our state,” said Angie Wolfe, parent of three Unit 40 students. “I ask you to say yes to athletics at Effingham.”

The speakers included two current students. “I would love for the basketball season to continue,” said a freshman student from Effingham High School. “If you cancel basketball, what are kids gonna do in the winter?”

High school basketball has been a point of contention for several state-level leaders and organizations, including the IHSA. After being previously classified as a “Moderate Risk” activity by the state’s health officials, it was bumped up to “Higher Risk” in late October, ahead of an IHSA board meeting to discuss plans for basketball and other winter sports.

However, this was before the IHSA’s Craig Anderson issued a statement to temporarily pause the IHSA winter season.

“The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) recognizes that today’s announcement by Governor Pritzker will temporarily pause the IHSA’s winter sports season. We remain optimistic that these new mitigations, coupled with the emergence of a vaccine, will aid in creating participation opportunities in the New Year for IHSA student-athletes in winter, spring, and summer sports. The IHSA Board of Directors will meet as scheduled on November 19, 2020, to continue plotting out potential paths for IHSA sport and activity participation through the remainder of the school year.

“Although representatives from the Governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health will be unable to attend the meeting, today’s updated guidance from Governor Pritzker will aid the Board’s decision-making. We have asked Deputy Governor Ruiz and Dr. Ezike to engage with us in the near future, so that we can collaborate on developing a plan to safely conduct IHSA sports and activities as soon as possible. IHSA schools have been exemplary in adhering to state regulations throughout this pandemic and we hope that non-school programs will hold themselves to the same standard as we all put the long-term health and safety of our fellow citizens ahead of short-term athletic competition.”

There have been cases of school sports leading to coronavirus infections and clusters of COVID-19. Basketball workouts at a high school in North Carolina was linked to a cluster of cases in early October. The Boston Globe reported that several clusters of COVID-19 were linked to non-school youth sports leagues in Massachusetts in early November.

In other Unit 40 news

• Shannon Hinkle presented plans for Effingham High School’s spring musical, which is tentatively set to be performed at the Effingham Performance Center. This is to allow for adequate social distancing among audience members. “We support her 100%,” Doan said.

• The district’s outdoor holiday event, scheduled for early December, has been canceled due to health concerns.

• The board approved its annual tax levy, which is expected to keep the tax rate at or only slightly above the current rate.

• The board reviewed the iPad and laptop manual that was developed as part of the district’s one to one computing project.

Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or andrew.adams@effinghamdailynews.com

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Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or andrew.adams@effinghamdailynews.com

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