By Kyle Daubs

Basketball players across Coles County are patiently practicing on their own, hoping for a season to begin. 

Under normal circumstances, both Mattoon and Charleston High Schools would be about one-third into their respective seasons. Instead, it’s unclear whether a winter sports season will take place.

The IHSA disclosed few answers in its regularly scheduled meeting Monday.

We do know that contact days for fall, spring, and summer sports will be allowed as soon as the Illinois Department of Public Health and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office lifts Tier 3 mitigations related to the COVID pandemic. Basketball remains in the high-risk category, which means practices can’t be conducted. 

Winter sports are tentatively set to begin next month.

“We are just trying to keep our hopes up,” said MHS senior Kylie Haacke. “It’s such an unknown right now. We are trying to stay positive in hopes we can get a season after the new year. I think for now we are just trying to practice on our own and, hopefully, we can get in a few practices and scrimmages together here and there. Who knows? Maybe we can get a few games against another team. But it’s all unknown now.”

Mallory Ramage, a MHS junior who verbally committed to play for Loyola-Chicago, is doing pretty much the same as her teammate. 

“Sadly, we have to wait, but the best we can do is practice on our own and continue to get better,” said MHS junior Mallory Ramage. “If we have a season, we can be ready once it gets here.”

The IHSA Board approved spectator guidelines for winter sports – 50 fans from each school can sit on either side of the court. Despite a lack of clarity, an IHSA stated the board believes winter sports can be played. 

So Mattoon and Charleston players are trying to stay in the best shape they can.

“We’re just taking it day by day, controlling what we can control,” said CHS senior Sam Bickford. “Gotta stay sharp and keep working all the time. There’s not a thing we can control but our attitude and our effort.”

Said Mattoon senior Pierce Farmer: “We are handling this situation of Covid-19 pretty well I would say. It is pretty upsetting that all this is happening and possibly missing the season, but you gotta keep your head up high because it’s out of our control. You got to play as much as possible and stay active and be ready for the season if we get one. All we can do is pray for this to go away and find ways to play basketball to be ready for anything that is thrown at us.”

Charleston’s Shae Littleford, who signed with UT-Martin last month, has been trying to continue to improve her game. 

“It’s not been easy,” said CHS senior Shae Littleford. “However, it’s not in my control so I am trying to take it in stride. I continue to prepare myself as if we will get the opportunity to play and continue to get myself ready for the next level.”

Prep football’s fate is also unclear. The IHSA season is supposed to start on Feb.15. If football is given contact days in January, where will they practice? The weather will be too cold most nights, while the basketball court will be used until the later part of the evening. 

CHS senior Cory Spour, who plays both basketball and football, said he isn’t worried about any of that. He is just hoping to get some form of basketball season. 

“At this point for me it’s a waiting game,” said Spour. “The circumstances are not great, but there isn’t anything we can do to change it. I’m using this time to improve myself and work on my game. I’m trying to keep my mind off of it because it is disappointing and for most seniors, it will be our last season. Overall, I am hoping that we can have some sort of season whether it is just shortened or a limited number of fans.”