Despite parent protests, Pritzker says he’s following experts in delaying high school sports

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CHICAGO — Despite continuing protests by parents, players and coaches across the state, Governor JB Pritzker said Wednesday the presence of COVID-19 makes it too risky to play youth fall sports.

Pritzker said he’s no scientist, but he knows how to listen to the experts and follow the latest data. 

“Under no circumstances will I put children and their families at risk to those claiming that putting your child in danger is about personal choice. I say this is a pandemic,” Pritzker said. 

Loyola Academy Director of Youth Summer Sports John Holecek said there were no reported transmissions among the more than 1,000 high school kids who played 15 sports over the summer, despite a few positive cases.

“There’s obviously new science and new data,” Holecek said. “I think it’s pretty obvious by now that indoor is where the virus is spread, not outdoors.”

The Illinois High School Association moved fall high school sports like football, boys soccer and girls volleyball to the spring earlier this year. But student athletes and parents have pushed for those sports to return sooner rather than later. 

Speaking after Pritzker Wednesday, Rush University Medical Center infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Lin cautioned team contact sports can become superspreader events.

“It is also incredibly important to remember that there are many off-the-field activities that are associated with contact sports, such as athletes using locker rooms, working out in gyms, and traveling together that provide a perfect storm of conditions to enable the virus to spread quickly,” Lin said.

But Holecek believes those risks can be mitigated with strict protocols of masking, social distancing, temperature checks and staying home when sick.  He said he’s more worried about what kids do off the field and away from school.

“The concern that I have for kids is what they do after practice, after class, when they have free time and they are doing their own thing, that is when they have the risk, I believe there is absolutely very little risk for my son, who is junior on the football team,” Holecek said.

While some parents say it is a personal choice, Governor Pritzker said someone who becomes ill because of that decision wouldn’t call that your personal choice.  

When it comes to winter sports, which are indoor, Holecek says he will cross that bridge when we come to it.

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