The ultimate fate of the 2020-21 boys and girls high school basketball seasons in Illinois still hangs in the balance.
The Little Ten Conference, the oldest continuous high school athletic conference in the state, was founded in 1919 and has held a boys basketball tournament every year — even during World War II — since 1920, and a girls event each season since 1982.
Those highly anticipated gatherings, which have produced numerous climactic finishes and upsets, could suffer their first cancellation for a league that has produced solid small-school hoops for over 100 years.
"I think, like many things, it would be a shame to have players be robbed of the experience of playing in and possibly winning the tournament. Every player that has ever played in it or any coach that has ever coached in it has pride in having been a part of that historic event," said Somonauk boys head coach Curt Alsvig, who won a LTC Tourney title his senior year at Serena in 2000 and was part of the Somonauk coaching staff under Ron Hunt that helped the Bobcats win the "Gold Ball" in 2014. "Let's hope that there isn't an asterisk by the year 2021 in the tournament program moving forward that signifies that it wasn't played.
"It's a very special week of basketball and an event I hope we will be able to find a way to play in this season."
On Oct. 27, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health put the basketball season on hold and moved it from a medium- to high-risk sport following an increase in COVID-19 cases in Illinois and surrounding states.
In response, the Illinois High School Association said that schools could, in fact, start their basketball seasons on schedule and provided its new guidelines. However, Pritzker responded to that announcement by clarifying his previous statements, saying that basketball was moved to spring.
That has set up a period of scrambling by teams, athletic departments, school boards and other governing bodies around the state. Which governing body do they follow? What are the liabilities playing despite the governor’s orders?
"Here in Earlville, we kind of sit in limbo," said Earlville AD Shawn Collins. "We are going to start with practices next week in accordance with the IDPH guidelines — no contact practices/training. We wait to hear more from the IDPH, IHSA, Illinois State Board of Education, the Governor's Office and our School Board before making any further decisions."
Many schools have had or are having board meetings in the near future to make these decisions. Until then, or perhaps even still afterwards, there will be uncertainty around a winter season.
On Nov. 4 the Little Ten conducted an AD/Principal meeting in which nine of the 11 schools, based on current IDPH guidelines, were planning to postpone and/or cancel their seasons based on concerns that defying those guidelines would leave their insurance coverage null and void. The two outliers were undetermined, but were leaning towards following suit.
In a recent letter to its communities, the Serena Unit No. 2 District said, "The upcoming boys and girls basketball seasons are on indefinite hold due to the ongoing conflict between the Governor/Illinois Department of Health and the Illinois High School Association. Once this conflict is resolved, it will be our intention and hope to offer a winter basketball season under regulations and guidelines that are approved by both the IDPH and IHSA."
"We have not cancelled anything, and we are going to play things by ear because I still really think things will change again," said Serena AD Dean DeRango. "We have sent emails to all our officials and opposing schools that, as far as we are concerned, the season is still on as scheduled, and we'll cancel games as they come up if we have to."
LaMoille AD Wanda DeLong also responded to emails saying that the LaMoille/Ohio co-op will not play unless there is approval by the IDPH and would not have had a girls team due to low numbers regardless.