The back-and-forth saga between Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the IHSA leaked into Thursday after Pritzker announced that winter high school sports, including basketball, would be “moved into spring.”
The news that the IHSA Board of Directors opted to disregard Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Tuesday ruling to put basketball on hold ignited excitement in those who believed Executive Director Craig Anderson needed to take a stand.
Only now, local schools await an announcement by the IHSA to provide more information on winter sports and beyond that many coaches believe is long overdue. Many high school athletic programs have voiced their frustration with the ongoing changes between Pritzker and the IHSA.
“When Craig said that we’re going against the IDPH and Governor, I was ecstatic that the IHSA finally stood up,” said Carbondale Athletic Director Mark Albertini. “At the end of the day, schools have learned that anything could happen. Once the IHSA punched back at the Governor, we knew he could punch back.”
It was a dramatic turn of events after news surfaced 24 hours before the IHSA’s Wednesday announcement for winter sports when Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health came out and said there would be ramifications if schools went against their wishes.
Albertini recognized those ramifications could include a loss of school funding.
“Since the Governor uttered words that there could be ramifications from the ISBE, it changes things for each school district's decision,” said Albertini. “Our state superintendent sent out a letter last night that read, ‘we’re going against the guidelines,’ and included that there could be a loss in funding.”
“Whether that’s textbooks or equipment for science classes — I know that our kids can’t afford to lose that.”
Pritzker and the IHSA have provided concrete evidence that player safety is most important on both sides. Pritzker expressed his hopes of having a vaccine come springtime on Thursday, while Anderson identified Wednesday that the mental health of students has remained instrumental in the IHSA’s decision making.
The IHSA had already revised its sports calendar for football and other fall sports that Pritzker delayed until July. With an already jam-packed spring schedule of football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, girls badminton, boys gymnastics and water polo, it seems that wrestling and boys and girls basketball might be joining that list.
“High school kids are being used as pawns right now,” said Albertini. “If I’m a senior or junior right now, I recognize that there are politics behind this.”
Harrisburg girls basketball coach Jake Stewart has been one of many coaches voicing their frustrations with the IHSA on social media — describing the situation as, “two steps forward and 20 steps back,” in a Thursday phone conversation.
The Lady Bulldogs were scheduled to open up their season on Nov. 31 against West Frankfort after the IHSA announced Wednesday that basketball season would start on Nov. 16. With many schedules likely postponed, the news for Stewart and his team came on his team's final contact day.
“A meeting between the Governor and the IHSA is long overdue,” said Stewart. “I found out the IHSA’s plan in early November and had heard that the IHSA has been trying to sit down with the Governor, but I assume he’s been busy. If he has time to blindside the IHSA one day before its announcement on winter sports, then I think he can find time to meet with them.”
Benton boys basketball coach Ron Winemiller hopped on Twitter Thursday before Pritzker’s announcement to give his two cents on what the IHSA should do. His suggestion included announcing a January start to basketball games; that way both sides can claim victory and then the kids know exactly what their season is going to look like.
It seems the one thing that has lacked amongst coaches like Stewart and Winemiller is clarity.
“My daughter is a junior high player and they’re in the same boat,” said Stewart. “They just want to know what’s going on.”
Herrin basketball coach Sayler Shurtz added that there has also been a lack of communication. After 19 contact days, the Tigers have put their practices on hold until further instruction comes from the IHSA.
“Coaches and players have just never been able to feel comfortable during this entire process,” said Shurtz. “I don’t see how we would play basketball in the spring given all of the other sports going on. You start to look at three-sport athletes like Billy Braid, who does triple jump, basketball and football — you start to feel sorry for kids like him.”
The plan of attack for basketball teams moving forward is the Nov. 16 start date that the IHSA currently has in place. Shurtz and many others want fairness for these athletes.
“At the beginning of everything, I totally understood there would be difficulties, but it’s the stuff we teach our kids — communication — and I feel like there’s been none of that. I’m running out of things to tell my kids because they’re constantly getting their hopes up.”