Basketball

Local coaches optimistic following IHSA's surprising decision

Woodstock girls basketball coach Rick Peterson talks with his players during a summer basketball shootout at McHenry High School West Campus on Friday, June 21, 2019 in McHenry.
Woodstock girls basketball coach Rick Peterson talks with his players during a summer basketball shootout at McHenry High School West Campus on Friday, June 21, 2019 in McHenry.

Woodstock girls basketball coach Rick Peterson prepared a speech for the Zoom call with his players Wednesday afternoon that was ominous and pessimistic.

Peterson then heard other news from the IHSA just before the call and completely changed his script.

“I was a lot less hopeful yesterday,” Peterson said. “My Zoom call was going to be that there’s a possibility we may not play. Then, I saw that online and I’m like, ‘Now, what do I say?’ I’m 100% hopeful. I’m going to keep going until they tell me to stop.”

Peterson, who is an employee of Shaw Media, is hardly alone.

On Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that boys and girls basketball, initially termed as medium-risk sports in late July because of the COVID-19 pandemic, had been changed to high-risk sports. That meant those seasons would be put on hold.

But after a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss its winter sports, the IHSA Board of Directors decided to go against the governor and IDPH and voted to go ahead with basketball as planned. The IHSA also voted to move wrestling, termed high-risk, to the summer season (April 19 through June 26).

Practices for winter sports are supposed to start on Nov. 16 with contests starting on Nov. 30.

IHSA executive director Craig Anderson had stated previously there had not been a lot of communication between the governor, the IDPH and the IHSA. The IHSA modified its sports schedules to move football (high), volleyball and boys soccer (medium) to a season running from Feb. 15 to May 1. The winter sports were scheduled to run from Nov. 16 through Feb. 13.

The switch of basketball from medium to high caught everyone off guard on Tuesday. It came a few days after a rare meeting between the IHSA and the IDPH in which the IHSA laid out its plans to make basketball as safe as possible.

Tuesday was as gloomy for coaches, players and fans as Wednesday was sunny.

“Yesterday was a bit of a shock,” McHenry boys basketball coach Chris Madson said. “All of us had the wind taken out of our sails. It definitely felt like (the IHSA) was leaning toward postponing if not folding the season. I’ve never seen a state association go against the government. Not only as a coach, but as a social studies teacher, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Cary-Grove boys basketball coach Adam McCloud lauded the IHSA for trying to give athletes the opportunity.

“When we found out yesterday, a lot of us jumped to the worst-case scenario,” said McCloud, who teaches special education at C-G. “Every coach wants to coach. Every coach wants kids to have the opportunity. The last thing I wanted to do yesterday was give another speech, ‘Hey, your season’s over.’ And this time before it’s even starting. Last time at least we got to play 30-plus games.

“I have reservations and concerns. (District 155) just moved out of a hybrid teaching model in to remote because they say the numbers aren’t safe. To think, ‘Hey, basketball’s going to start on time,” I question the messages we’re sending.”

While there is hope, Peterson is afraid basketball is not yet a done deal.

“I’m trying to be as positive as I can,” he said. “We should try to have a season. I keep hearing this is going to be challenged.”

Madson feels the same way.

“Doubt was creeping in (yesterday),” he said. “Today, a complete 180 in terms of the new (IHSA) announcement. We’re trying to provide an even-keel, not-too-high, not-too-low informative and educated provision for what’s about to happen. We always want to view everything in an optimistic way.”

The IHSA canceled the end of the boys basketball season last March and all of its spring sports seasons. Many schools have not been able to return to in-school learning this fall.

“I can tell you from every coach and teacher I’ve talked to, this has been a very hard year for everybody,” McCloud said. “It takes a lot of the joy out of the job. It’s hard when we’re juggling back and forth, you get into a groove, then you change, but you have to be flexible. You have to adapt. We know the people making decisions are thinking about the best interests of the kids. Everybody wants kids to have the opportunities, but we have to make sure we’re doing it safely.”

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