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Masks are a must for basketball in St. Louis County, IHSA officially pauses winter season

Masks are a must for basketball in St. Louis County, IHSA officially pauses winter season

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When high school basketball is played this winter in St. Louis County, masks are a must for everyone. If there are spectators, they will be few.

These are two of the updated guidelines for youth sports issued Wednesday by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

There is no outright ban on spectators, but the Department of Public Health’s guidelines state, “It is strongly recommended NO spectators attend indoor sporting events.”

If spectators are allowed, then it’s a maximum of two people per participant and only if the facility being used can accommodate adequate social distancing. The maximum amount of people allowed in a facility cannot exceed 25 percent of its normal capacity and that includes everyone in the facility.

“In calculating capacity limitations, limited to 25 percent, all coaches, officials, participants, spectators and any other person in attendance shall be included,” read the guidelines.

The Suburban Conference adopted a league-wide policy that no spectators will be allowed for its St. Louis County members. The Metro Catholic Conference is expected to announce its spectator policy next week. 

“We wanted to stick together as a Suburban Conference on this decision,” Suburban Conference commissioner Larry Cunningham said. “We wanted to do the best we could to mitigate the risk of COVID.”

This policy does not apply to Fox, Northwest–Cedar Hill or Seckman, which are located in Jefferson County.

As with the return of football in October, every school district that wants to participate in winter sports must submit a proposed plan to the Department of Public Health and have it approved to begin playing teams within the St. Louis Area region, which is designated as St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Franklin County, Jefferson County and the Metro East.

Every player and coach is required to wear a mask. The guidelines also ban tournaments and showcase events.

Cunningham said the St. Louis County Health Department will reevaluate its guidelines in the near future and there is a hope the spectator policy could change.

“Hopefully this is not long term,” Cunningham said.

As St. Louis County plans to begin playing games, the Illinois High School Association announced Thursday it would pause winter sports indefinitely. The IHSA board of directors met Thursday and decided, in conjunction with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s recent restrictions, the basketball season will be put on hold. The IHSA will revisit its decision Dec. 2 and again Dec. 14.

“Given the rising COVID-19 cases in our state and region, we support the Governor’s mitigations and believe it is imperative for everyone in the state to do their part in following them so that we can return to high school sports participation as soon as possible,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in a statement.

As of Thursday, no high school teams in Illinois are allowed to hold in-person practice, conditioning or weight training sessions or open gyms. Practice can be conducted outside with masking and social distancing measures in place and only in groups of 10 or fewer, with the coach counting toward the total number of people.

Individual skill work is allowed, but only if it’s one player, one coach and they are alone in a facility.

As Illinois pumps the breaks on its winter season, Kansas appears headed in that direction. On Wednesday the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s executive board unanimously approved a proposal that included a delay of the start of the winter sports season until Jan. 15. The proposal will head to the KSHSAA board of directors, which is scheduled to meet virtually Tuesday.

Also included in the proposal is a 13-game limit for teams, no invitational tournaments and no fans in attendance until Jan. 28. A mask mandate also was included for everyone in attendance at games except for players and officials actively participating in the game.

Should Kansas join Illinois in pushing back the start of its season it would be the third state that borders Missouri to do so. On Wednesday, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association announced it pushed back the start of its winter sports season until Jan. 4 in response to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the state.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 31 states have modified their basketball season schedules while 20 — including Missouri — have made no changes.

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