Before the IHSA even met, Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave everyone a preview.
On Wednesday, the IHSA Board of Directors were going to meet to give those planning to play in winter sports a vote of confirmation. Those participating in basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, dance, and swim were wanting to know what their future held.
Amid the pandemic, Gov. Pritzker threw a wrench in the IHSA’s plan to continue with winter sports. For the second time in a four-month span, Gov. Pritzker made a major decision that will affect thousands of families, athletes, and coaches in the state of Illinois.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pritzker moved basketball to high risk. All sports have been labeled as three tiers – low, medium, and high. Before fall sports began, basketball was considered medium, but the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases has resulted in basketball being moved.
“I am still hopeful for the basketball season,” said Charleston boys basketball coach Brad Oakley before Pritzker’s announcement. “We would love to have the students play, we need to be safe for the players and their families. With the University of Wisconsin study coming out about COVID-19 and high school sports, I am hoping the Illinois leaders feel we can play safely.”
The move back to Level 1 means that no-contact practices and weight training are the only activities now allowed.
“Frustrating. We’ve had 20 contact days with no issues but now two weeks before practice is to start we move basketball to high risk,” said Oakley. “The game of basketball hasn’t changed in the last six weeks. How can the level change now?”
Winter sports were scheduled to take part from Nov. 16 to Feb. 13. The move could possibly eliminate the participation of high school basketball, but coaches in Coles County remain positive.
“We are hopeful that we will have a basketball season,” said Mattoon boys basketball coach Ryan Ghere. “Our seniors have worked really hard the past three seasons, and we hope that they are able to compete their senior year. We have been having open gyms and following the guidelines that the school has given us for this time.”
Heading into the decision, there were rumors that players were going to be asked to wear masks. IHSA director Craig Anderson shot down those rumors, but did not rule out that the proposal was on the table.
For Oakley, it would be worth doing so to have a season.
“Michigan recently decided that players will need to wear masks to participate,” said Oakley. “I’m not a fan of players playing in masks, but I think the kids would rather play with masks than not play at all.”
Wrestling has not moved out of the high risk category. For Mattoon, it would be a devastating blow for a roster that reached the IHSA State Duals, and could potentially have the best season in school history.
“Our team has five wrestlers who have qualified for the IHSA State Tournament returning to the line-up,” said Mattoon wrestling coach Brett Porter. “With the addition of a very good freshman class, Mattoon High School could have a historical season in 2020-21. Our coaches, captains and members of the team are very hopeful the IHSA will not only have a season, but will allow for post-season competition as well.”
Porter said the team has had to be creative during these times. Given that wrestling is a contact sport, having no contact has been tricky, but doable.
“Wrestlers at Mattoon have found ways to be creative with workouts during the preseason,” said Porter. “With our sport listed as high risk, we have not been able to have open gyms involving skin-to-skin contact. Most of our time has been spent in the weight room. Many wrestlers have picked up a second sport or activity to stay in shape. With nice weather, we have been able to utilize the track and bleachers.”
Cheerleading and dance will have their seasons. But a few questions: With no teams to cheer for, and no outside tournaments, how will a competitive season look for them? For smaller schools that use sideline cheer and do not attend tournaments, will they continue as scheduled?
The girls swim season just finished, which gave plenty of hope for the boys swim season to happen. Charleston boys coach Brian Bower is thrilled to have a season, but he believes there are larger variables that need to be monitored.
“While I am hopeful we will have a swim season, we cannot lose sight of the primary needs – safety of students and staff and our student athletes’ education,” said Bower. “I hope they can coexist but safety and education must be a priority.”
All winter sports coaches will be closely monitoring the situation.
“These next few weeks will be fluid,” said Oakley. “I’m going to remain positive that we can play this season (in some form). We will work to provide an environment that is safe where students can play and work on their skills, have fun, and get better.”