They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
But if I had to use local geography to explain the way Illinois high school sports have been navigated between Gov. JB Pritzker’s Oct. 27 announcement that basketball season would be pushed back to an undetermined date and the Illinois High School Association’s Nov. 19 announcement that winter sports, including basketball, were being pushed back to an undetermined date, I would say we traveled from one downtown Peru business to another downtown Peru business by the following route:
First driving through La Salle, then Oglesby, then Grand Ridge, then Seneca, then up to Earlville, then taking a quick trip down to Carbondale, then driving up 51 through DuQuoin, Decatur and Bloomington, before jumping onto 251 through Lostant, Tonica and ultimately our destination in downtown Peru.
In other words, my traveling companions, we took the scenic route and wound up in pretty much the exact same place we started.
At the risk of sounding like an after-school special or Saturday morning cartoon commercial, along the way we learned a few things – about high school sports and about ourselves.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that whether basketball would get played in the winter quickly devolved into a political issue. This is the 21st century, after all. What isn’t a political issue?
I know a lot of you, in fact, feel this is entirely a political issue; that it is a power play by the state government or a flexing of gubernatorial muscle. I don’t see it, personally. What would be gained by keeping kids from playing sports or restaurants from serving customers indoors or “Trolls World Tour” from playing in theatres? Where’s the upside in that for anyone? But we’ve learned a lot of people do believe that to be the case.
Agree or disagree with the decision not to play basketball – or for that matter wrestling, bowling, competitive dance and competitive cheer – I believe it is being made with the right reasons in mind.
I also think the IHSA had the best of intentions in late October when, shortly after the Illinois Department of Public Health recategorized basketball as a high-risk sport, the IHSA elected to come out publicly saying it planned to proceed with its scheduled winter basketball season.
I think at that time the IHSA sincerely believed: 1) basketball could be played relatively safely with certain mitigation measures such as empty gyms and/or with masks, as other states are going to try; and 2) the state government would react by reaching out to work on a way winter sports perhaps could be played.
Whether the IHSA board was right on the first remains to be seen, but there is little doubt it was dead wrong on the latter.
These past few weeks, I’ve repeatedly gotten a picture in my head of a parent telling her children they can’t do something. The children run into the other room, climb on the couch and jump up and down, screaming they don’t care, they’re doing it anyway, nobody can boss them around. And all the while, back in the kitchen, the parent simply goes about her business and ignores the children until they inevitably run out of steam and trod back into the kitchen, exhausted, and say, “OK, fine, we won’t do it.”
Be it the IHSA board voting to proceed with its winter season or the scattered handful of schools around the state choosing to forge ahead and play against the IDPH and Illinois State Board of Education’s wishes, to Your Friendly Neighborhood Sports Reporter and many others – including the schools that got ahead of this and said, although they’d like to play, they simply didn’t see a path to make it happen – the outcome we ended up with looked inevitable.
At least for basketball, unless there was an incredibly unlikely divebomb in the number of COVID-19 cases, this is how it was going to turn out no matter how the IHSA or individual school boards voted.
With that finally settled, the next obvious question becomes: OK, so when can basketball and other sports return this school year, if at all?
And that answer is the same as it always has been.
“When the state government, IDPH and the governor’s office say we’re good to go,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson told Aledo station WRMJ’s Jim Taylor on Friday morning, “that’s the time that we’ll turn on the lights and let our schools go forward.”
People are just now agreeing to accept it.