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ADs Preparing For Winter Seasons, Await IHSA Decision

Joe Deacon
Players practice at Carver Arena in Peoria before a 2018 IHSA boys basketball state semifinal. The IHSA Board of Trustees has delayed an announcement on how it will proceed with the winter sports season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As basketball and other winter high school sports still face uncertainty over the upcoming season amid a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases, Peoria-area athletic directors are proceeding with their current plans.

“Nothing's really changed at this point,” said Peoria High School’s Brien Dunphy. “Athletic directors typically work two years in advance, and now COVID has caused us to work two months in advance.

“But we're all ready for basketball and wrestling and cheer as we know it to exist right now, and it's full steam ahead with getting officials and buses and all the things that go into a season schedule, and we won't make changes until we know what those changes have to be.”

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) delayed an anticipated announcement on winter sports this week, with the board of directors scheduling a special meeting for next Wednesday as it continues to work with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) on how to hold contests safely during the pandemic.

“I just think they're all difficult decisions,” said Manual High AD Tim Kenny. “They're going to be very thorough about it and then come up with the best decision for the kids. These decisions are only easy if you're not the one making them.

“I told the kids to just be patient, and we'll respect any decision that's made because the ones who make the decision know a lot more about what's going on than we do as far as from a medical standpoint.”

Morton Athletic Director Scott Jones said he and his coaches are still planning on basketball practice opening on Nov. 16 and games starting the week of Nov. 30 – but he knows there will need to be precautions, notably players having to wear masks.

“That's one of the biggest challenges for coaches, if you will, is making sure kids keep putting those on,” said Jones. “This is a big change; they’re huffing and puffing and lugging down that court, and of course you know kids – they push the boundaries as much as they can.”

In an IHSA news release, Executive Director Craig Anderson said he understands players, parents and coaches are eager to learn more details, adding the organization is making progress in discussions with the IDPH to allow winter contests.

“We believe we have a plan to do so safely and want to provide IDPH with ample time to review the winter sports plans, and supportive data, we have provided them,” said Anderson.

Jones said another consideration is how to present basketball games as normal as possible with no spectators in the gyms.

“With that 50% (capacity) limit, that means we don't have our dance team, we don't have our cheerleaders on the sideline. We don't have our pep band up there on the stage, pounding out tunes and doing all these great things,” he said.

“So from our standpoint, we are trying to find ways so that when parents are watching this on television or on the computer, that we make it look as close to a normal game day as possible for them and for our kids.”

Dunphy said students-athletes should keep up their normal routine and focus on passing their classes while letting the adults worry about the pandemic. He said he does expect the seasons will happen, perhaps with modified schedules.

“I think the IHSA is really working hard for kids and coaches – and they have always, but they really are going out of their way now,” said Dunphy. “I think that they'll postpone rather than cancel; they're going to do anything they can to get us a season, even if it's abbreviated. They've shown that flexibility and determination all through this process.”

Kenny said health and safety remain the utmost priority and stressed altered seasons amid the pandemic would be a minor setback in the lives of the student-athletes.

“As coaches and mentors, we tell the kids we won't make this bigger than it is,” he said. “They've got basketball careers ahead of them, and we refuse to make this an end note to their careers. This is just a roadblock and whatever happens, we'll deal with it.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.