Thursday marked another day of unknown for many local schools after the IHSA announced its decision to put a temporary pause on all winter sports moving forward.
The IHSA Board of Directors decision followed a virtual meeting that deemed it safe for all schools to maintain compliance with the most recent mitigations issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker set to take effect on November 20. The IHSA Board issued guidance to pause all IHSA winter sports and activities by Nov. 20.
An updated decision on the future of winter sports will be revisited on Dec. 2, and again at their regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 14 if necessary.
IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson stated in his press release, “The Board is sensitive to the scheduling difficulties these delays create for athletic directors and coaches.” This comes after basketball coaches adjusted their calendars to a Nov. 30 start date following the IHSA’s most recent guidance.
Marion High School football coach Kerry Martin feels the easiest way to deal with ever-changing news during a pandemic is by taking hits one day at a time.
“The main thing I’ve gathered from coaches and AD’s is that everybody has learned to live day-by-day and week-by-week,” Martin said. “A lot of coaches are control freaks and now can’t be like that anymore.”
Martin is used to handing out football calendars in March, but this year his team is dealing with the longest offseason in school history now approaching 12 months. Martin and his players remain hopeful for a vaccine and acknowledge that other surrounding states, colleges and professional teams are playing football safely.
“This pause is something a lot of us saw coming based on predictions of things getting worse,” Martin said. “I’ve been so impressed with the resilience of our kids, it’s been a remarkable thing to watch. Southern Illinois kids in general have handled this as good as expected, if not better.”
Initial reactions out of local athletic directors seem to be less optimistic when it comes to having basketball this winter. Coronavirus numbers are up, hospitals are filled with patients, so many wonder what might change between now and November 14.
Both Carbondale and Marion’s athletic directors were a part of the Thursday Zoom call led by Anderson of the IHSA. Mark Albertini of Carbondale described Anderson as “obviously dejected” in the meeting, while Ryan Goodisky pinpointed Anderson showing “very low energy.”
“There is nobody jealous of Anderson’s job position,” Goodisky said. “It was really the first time you could see how heavy a toll this decision had taken on him throughout this entire process. I can only imagine what he’s going through behind closed doors as a dad with a son in his senior year.”
Albertini used a more visual description.
“Craig had looked like he got hit by a bus, it was sad,” Albertini said. “One of the commentators even asked what kind of toll these decisions have taken on him.”
According to Albertini, Anderson mentioned on the Zoom call that there is no date scheduled for the IHSA to meet with the Illinois Department of Public Health or Governor’s Office. Patience is running thin for both ADs who believe the outcome has been written on the wall for quite some time now.
“Craig told everyone on Zoom there’s a possibility we don’t have winter sports, which at that point, we were like finally you admit it,” Albertini said. “We’ve been optimistic a lot and need to come to terms and be realistic. The IHSA needs to pull the plug and stop stringing these kids along by dangling a carrot in front of their eyes.”
Martin acknowledged his football team will get that carrot sooner or later by sticking to the IHSA’s guidelines.
“We’ll continue to do what they ask us to do and try to stay positive because that’s really all we can do.” Martin said. “A lot of life lessons will come out of this situation for kids that maybe we won’t see until later. We’re very anxious about what to expect moving forward.”
Albertini believes lower contact sports such as cheerleading, swimming and bowling could receive news on a start date following the IHSA’s next meeting. He continues to think about the safety of health care workers and hospitals with low capacity.
“What I’m seeing is hospitals being overbooked and people still not wearing their masks,” Albertini said. “What’s saying an athlete tears an ACL and there’s not a hospital bed for them, they may not be able to be treated if we move forward with sports right now.”
Goodisky remains optimistic for better days ahead.
“We need to start thinking about one another.” Goodisky said. “It’s disheartening when you see someone not wearing their mask. I think back to the old Dean Smith quote when he said you should never be proud of doing the right thing, you should just do the right thing, and I think that speaks volumes.”