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Sports

'I think the basketball community and the IHSA got blindsided.' Area coaches, players react to a season put on hold

Morton's Jesus Perez drives toward the basket during a game at Willowbrook on Dec. 20.
Morton's Jesus Perez drives toward the basket during a game at Willowbrook on Dec. 20.

Morton senior Jesus Perez is no stranger to tackling big opponents.

At 5-foot-6, Perez overcomes his height and slight build to be a standout on the basketball court and on the soccer field.

Yet, Perez might be faced with a difficult decision after Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. JB Pritzker that the winter high school sports season would be put on hold. The Illinois Department of Public Health declared on Tuesday that basketball is moved from medium risk to high risk during the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted Pritzker to say “as with sports in the fall, nothing is ‘canceled’, just put on hold until we’re through the thick of the pandemic.”

With boys and girls basketball practices set to begin on Nov. 16, Perez and other winter sports athletes face the prospect of a delayed season.The Illinois High School Association is planning a board meeting on Wednesday to discuss the remaining sports schedule for the 2020-21 school year, according to IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson.

“It hurts hearing the news about basketball being delayed,” Perez said. “It’s my senior year and this happening is absolutely no help. I didn’t think this basketball season should be delayed. My team and I just want to be able to play the game we love and be able to get a shot at getting colleges looking at us. Hearing about this season being delayed is honestly heart-breaking.”

Cheerleading and dance were both moved to low risk, but basketball was moved to high risk, prompting an outcry from basketball coaches and players throughout the state.

“We know this virus is of most concern when people are indoors with high contact, especially in vigorous situations that bring about heavy breathing, like in wrestling, hockey and basketball,” Pritzker said. “Life in a pandemic is hard for everyone, and it’s hard for all of our kids, whether or not they play sports. That doesn’t make it any easier, but we really are all in this together.”

Benet girls basketball coach Joe Kilbride said he was disappointed that basketball was moved to high risk, especially since his program has been following strict guidelines during contact practice days.

“I’m very surprised and disappointed that we got reclassified,” Kilbride said. “I figured with the number of cases, they would delay the start of season but we would still be able to practice and have open gyms. But reclassified at high risk, it moves us back to where we were at this summer.

“I’m not sure what happened to the game of basketball since the summer. We’ve had 19 days out of our 20 contact days. We figured out how to play with masks. To me, this decision is disappointing, we are now in limbo.”

IC Catholic Prep boys coach T.J. Tyrrell has a unique take on the situation due to his work in the business world and coaching high school, plus dealing with asthma his whole life. Still, Tyrrell said high school kids need to stay involved during the winter.

“The challenging thing is you look at there’s still youth sports, club sports, travel and health clubs going on,” he said. “So what’s going on? We all want answers and need answers. We want to do right by the kids and the virus, but being close to both sides, from the business world and to the kids, they are itching for it. They miss school.

"I have asthma, been battling it for my whole life, but I take the right measures and watch the symptoms. I still want to be a part of it and am willing to coach the kids.”

Riverside-Brookfield senior guard Brenna Loftus, who holds numerous program records, is hopeful for a season but understanding of the current climate regarding the virus.

“I’m doing my best to remain hopeful that everything will work itself out and we’ll get to play in some way, shape or form,” Loftus said. “It’s definitely understandable if it’s delayed or doesn’t happen. Everyone’s health should be of the upmost importance right now, and hopefully the IHSA and others can find a way to fit athletics into that.”

Fenwick girls basketball coach Dave Power is on track to win his 1,000th career game this season, but his wait could be extended several months.

“I’m optimistic that we will have a season,” Power said. “I think the fact that the season is on hold, not canceled gives us some hope. It would be a huge disappointment for kids to not have a season. I’ve been coaching 45 years, and not been in a situation like this. I think the basketball community and the IHSA got blindsided.”

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