With the scheduled start of the boys and girls basketball season set for Nov. 16, high schools across the state had decisions to make.
Play on and begin practice? Wait and see what other schools did?
For Morgan Park Academy Coach Tom Drahozal and his girls basketball team, the decision was simple.
“Due to the abundance of COVID cases, and the increased number of cases, we’re going to push the start of the season back,” Drahozal said. “We will re-evaluate the first week of December and see if the possibility of a shorter season that starts in January would work. It was a tough decision.”
The potential start of the high school basketball season has caused a whirlwind of changes in recent weeks.
The day before the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) was set to reveal its winter plan, on Oct. 27 Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that basketball had been moved from a medium-risk sport to a high-risk sport.
Then on Oct. 28, the IHSA announced that boys and girls basketball would go on as planned with practices beginning Nov. 16 and competitions set to begin on Nov. 30.
However, in the weeks following, schools statewide had to decide on their own about what their plan of action would be in going forward with the basketball season.
Drahozal said it was far from an easy decision.
“We had to think with our head and not our heart,” Drahozal said. “It was a tough call to make, and I feel most for our seniors. This year will be unlike any other, but Gov. Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Public Health [IDPH] and the IHSA are not on the same page right now.”
Drahozal is also the MPA principal.
He has coached MPA’s girls basketball program since 1994, amassing an impressive 383-280 record including seven regional titles.
Many area schools opted not to start basketball practices on Nov. 16 as athletic programs waited to hear results of a meeting scheduled for Nov. 19.
Members of the IHSA Board of Directors said on Nov. 11 that they are formally inviting representatives from Pritzker’s office and the IDPH to attend the Nov. 19 meeting.
“The board hopes to create a dialogue and build a more collaborative relationship with all the entities involved with developing sports policy in our state as everyone tries to navigate the myriad issues caused by the pandemic,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson in a news release. “The board’s decision to move forward with the basketball season was not meant to be adversarial.”
Coaches from the area had different opinions about the topic.
Evergreen Park (EP) announced that its boys and girls basketball seasons will not start on time.
“It’s frustrating, but you understand with cases spiking and concerns from the public health department,” said EP Coach Jim Sexton. “It stinks for the seniors, but we’ll be ready if we get the go-ahead.”
Sexton said his boys basketball team wouldn’t conduct any activities, including open gym workouts that are allowed, until after the meeting on Nov. 19. Until then, it’s wait and see.
“After Christmas seems like the best window to play and get a season in,” Sexton said. “Even with a delay, there is value in getting the kids in the gym and letting them work. To do something to help the mental side of it, it’s better than nothing.”
St. Rita Coach Roshawn Russell echoed that sentiment. As an added benefit to starting the season, he said, student-athletes would be able to practice and compete in a safer, controlled environment.
Instead, many athletes are playing with club teams or in unsanctioned workouts without social distancing, facemasks or the following of health guidelines in gyms in Indiana. At least in the high school setting, health guidelines would be followed.
“The goal is to minimize the risk and the spread of the disease,” Russell said. “Under our control, it would be safer [to practice and play]. It’s been frustrating though when our leaders can’t make one decision.”
Russell agreed with the chances of a season starting in late December or early January.
“I’ve heard the idea tossed out of moving it to spring,” Russell said. “There are a lot of problems with that, so I don’t see that working. For now, we’re adjusting on the fly, working out and staying in communication.”