Orion still considering basketball decision

by Mindy Carls correspondent
Orion's Maryn Bollinger wrestles with a Rockridge defender during regional action on Feb. 10 in Sherrard.

Insurance and legal concerns might keep Orion High School athletes from playing basketball this winter, district officials said during the school board’s town hall on Thursday, Nov. 5.

Orion High School’s principal, Nathan DeBaillie, said in the four days before the town hall the district had to quarantine 120 students.

“The numbers are going in the wrong direction,” Superintendent Joe Blessman said. “They don’t support more personal contact in large groups.”

It’s taking five days to get results of COVID-19 tests, said R.C. Lowe, principal of C.R. Hanna Elementary School.

Basketball is something Blessman said he had discussed with DeBaillie. They understand the importance of activities for the social and emotional health of high school students, but basketball would go against the recommendations of the Illinois Department of Public Health, which has the authority to impose restrictions to promote public health.

Orion’s insurance company will not protect the district from claims in coronavirus cases linked to basketball, Blessman said. The district would have to pay any claims out of its own funds.

In a letter to the district, the insurance put in bold letters and underlined the phrases “no coverage” and “liable for COVID lawsuits,” Blessman said.

In the case of COVID, waivers might not stand up in court, the superintendent said.

Because it’s a life-or-death decision, parents cannot sign waivers for minors, DeBaillie said.

Sherrard’s board voted 4-3 to go ahead with basketball, Blessman said, but the Orion board has not discussed it. Practice can start as scheduled in mid-November, but the players will be limited to shooting and layup drills. They will not be able to scrimmage.

Principal Laura Nelson said the Illinois Elementary School Association has decided to follow the IDPH guidelines and cancel basketball.

Board member Brandon Cooper said the bottom line is that safety prevails.

DeBaillie said the best way to get back to normal is to understand it can harm you and it can harm others, and to do everything possible to stop the spread of the virus.

Blessman acknowledged it’s hard to see Iowa athletes playing football when Illinois students can’t, but the district might be liable if a student took coronavirus home and infected an older person in the family.

Cooper pointed out the positivity rates in Iowa are sky high. He said he wants to get students back to what they do, but there’s something to be said for how Illinois has handled the pandemic.

“If we could do it safely and protected by insurance, we’re all for getting kids back to normal,” Blessman said. “But we have to protect the district’s finances.”

Orion's Will Dunlap looks for someone to take a pass during a game on the Cliff Warkins Memorial game with Beecher on Dec. 27, 2019.