By Mike Monahan

Ryan Ghere, the Mattoon boys’ basketball coach, continues to hope there will be a basketball season this school year. 

“It is frustrating because we just don’t know and that is nobody’s fault that no one knows,” said Ghere (above). “The players have stayed as positive as they can. It is just hard with everything else moved somewhere else. Wrestling was moved to the summer and boys soccer was moved to the spring and girls soccer to the summer. They just have not done anything with basketball, and that is the frustrating part. As a coach, I don’t know what to tell the team because I just don’t have the answers.”

Ghere discussed the possibility of basketball being moved to the spring. 

“I know they would overlap with other sports (including football), but at least the kids can make a decision rather than the adults who say what they can play and not play,” Ghere said. “We have the numbers to do that and could handle the movement to the spring, but it would be tough for the smaller schools like Arcola, Neoga and Decatur St. Teresa as most kids play multiple sports. Most of our basketball players play basketball only, including Cam’Ron Thomas, Jaylen Middleton, Malik Carter Smith, Sam Bradbury and Cooper Bergstrom, and four of them are starters. I just hope they get a chance along with the seniors.”

The season won’t start this month. Gov. JB Pritzker recently moved the COVID-19 to tier 3, which doesn’t allow for inside sports.

“Given Governor Pritzker’s current mitigations, the board has no expectation of starting low risk winter sports prior to January,” said Craig Anderson, the IHSA Executive Director in a press release. “The board and IHSA staff will continue to monitor the tier 3 Resurgence Mitigation in effect currently. When there is a timeline for the state to emerge from these restrictions, the board is prepared to restart lower winter sports quickly. In addition, the board hopes to reestablish contact days in January for any winter sports that cannot begin as well as spring and summer sports. The introduction of the contact days will be based on mitigations from the Governor  and the Illinois Department of Public Health at that time. Further guidance on contact day limits will be established at a future board meeting (possibly Dec. 14).”

Ghere has not held practices since last fall when the team had 12 days to meet.

“We had open gyms in masks and, to the kids’ credit, they never complained,” said Ghere. “I thought it would be a headache. The kids have handled this better than the adults have. I think if they have to play in masks they would not enjoy it, but they would do it if that is the only way they can play.”

Ghere said the players spend a lot of time the YMCA. 

“They like to play so they just go play,” said Ghere. “It has been a roller coaster. When I talk to the players, I tell them we have just got to roll with it.”

As for soccer, Ghere said: “Normally, girls start March 1 and we struggle to get outside in early March. Now the boys will get to see what that is like as the girls have battled sleet, wind and snow in the spring. It will be played in totally different weather. Another good thing for the boys is that they go from Feb. 15 to May 1 and then get to start fall sports just three months later. That is a lot of soccer in six months, if we get it all in.”

With no boys soccer in the fall, several players competed for Mattoon’s cross country team. 

“That is an opportunity they would not normally have,” said Ghere. “They had a successful year doing it.”