While states all around us and across the nation are allowing children to engage in interscholastic sports, many Illinois kids remain on the sideline. Even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said playing sports is OK during the pandemic, as long as certain protective measures are followed.
Our Governor, who continues to stress that we must follow the science and rely on the experts, has disregarded CDC recommendations on this issue. By doing so, he continues to deny a great number of our school-aged children the opportunity to play the sports they love. Through the development of his own metrics for high, medium and low-risk sports, thousands of kids- many considered at risk- are left to busy themselves in other ways and to wonder why some kids can play sports but they can’t. I stand with families and children across Illinois in saying, “This simply isn’t fair.”
In Illinois, the Department of Public Health (IDPH) controls if, when, and how school-aged children can participate in sports right now. Officials from the IDPH write the rules and decide what is safe and what is not. Rather than writing their own rules, they should be adhering to CDC guidelines for playing sports during the health pandemic. Today the IDPH Director announced that when regions hit Phase 4 they can play the “high risk” sport of basketball. When will that be? Will it be before the end of the regular season? How fair is it that kids in some parts of the state will soon be able to play while those in the suburbs will not?
We need a pro-family, pro-student approach to this, and parents deserve to make the decision that is best for their family and for their children. Families should have the freedom to decide if and when their kids should return to their activities. As leaders, we need to look beyond health that is tied to the COVID-19 virus, and look at overall student health. Kids’ mental health must be considered. The innumerable benefits of playing organized sports must be considered. The health benefits of regular exercise must be considered. We must also accept the reality that kids will gather. They can gather in a controlled setting where COVID-19 safety guidelines provide protection, or they can gather in family basements, parks and backyards where no safety precautions are in place.
There has been a lot of talk about equity lately. Is it equitable that these rules create “haves” and “have nots” with regard to who can play sports? Where is the outrage over the fact that under these current rules only children from families that can afford expensive travel leagues can play many sports right now? Some of the children who need the structure of organized sports the most are the very kids who do not have the means to join a travel league. As adults, we recognize the undeniable truth that the devil finds work for idle hands. We know that keeping kids busy through activities like organized sports keeps them away from trouble. It’s time for Governor Pritzker to listen to the CDC on this issue. It’s time to let kids play sports.