No March Madness or football playoffs, but at least high school athletes can play
There won't be madness in March.
And masks will be required, even in competition.
But at least high school basketball players in Illinois will have basketball again.
The IHSA on Wednesday put out an updated sports schedule for 2021, including boys and girls basketball, both of which had looked like goners for this school year even just a few weeks ago, due to their high-risk classification and high COVID numbers across the state.
But now, the state is giving the green light for basketball and other high school sports in Illinois to begin competing once their regions hit the Phase 4 mitigation status, which most suburban areas are either reaching or almost reaching.
"I'm definitely happy we get to play at all," said Rolling Meadows star guard Max Christie, who is one of the best high school players in the country and will be playing at Michigan State next year. "All of us have been waiting a really long time for this, especially us seniors. I'll take anything at this point that comes our way if we just get to play."
The IHSA's plan for boys and girls basketball, for instance, is that once a school's region hits Phase 4, the school can start playing games after seven practices days.
The basketball season will run through March 13, however there will be no postseason tournament.
"So many of the best memories in high school basketball are created in the forum of the state tournament," Hersey boys basketball coach Austin Scott said. "The state tournament is what the kids remember, but how the kids quantify their experience this year and what we focus on can be adaptable in this new environment.
"I'm just so grateful and all of our guys are too, that we get to play and have a basketball season. We're going to make the most of it and we are going to embrace it. Will it be normal? It won't be normal in any way, shape or form. But this can be such a positive experience for the kids and that's been the crux of what we've been talking about for so long about why it was so important to get the kids playing again."
Rolling Meadows girls basketball coach Ryan Kirkorsky is particularly happy for the seniors, who will at least get one more chance to play the sport they love.
"Our girls can't wait to put their uniforms back on, especially the seniors. They've really wanted to put on the uniform one last time. I can't say if the season without a tournament is enough for them, but I do know that they have been wanting so much to just have the opportunity to play. They are really looking forward to it."
Meanwhile, sports such as football, boys soccer and girls volleyball are now scheduled to start in early March with their seasons ending in mid-to-late-April.
Football is slated to begin practices on March 3 and the first games are allowed on March 19. The six-game season will end on April 24 with no playoffs.
There could be some overlap for multisport athletes between sports and Naperville Central football coach Mike Stine is already contemplating how to deal with that.
"We have a number of kids who are multisport athletes and they should get all those opportunities," Stine said. "Plus we have a lot of coaches (who coach multiple sports). We're going to have to figure out that overlap because we're going to have about a two-week overlap at the beginning and a two-week overlap at the end.
"We will have to figure out practice time and how we will juggle that with the coaches and players. It's going to be something we all are going to have to be flexible on. At least now we have a plan, we have hope. We are going to have to brainstorm and figure it out and figure out how to do what's best for the kids, especially seniors. We have to take care of them."
John Lemon contributed to this story.