Christmas tournament managers play 'wait and see' at Marseilles, Plano

Decisions on hoops tourneys likely coming after Dec. 2

For most people in the Illinois Valley, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day flies by so fast there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day to get done all that needs to be done for the holidays.

But because of the pandemic, there are two men and many of their friends that just may have a lot more time on their hands than usual.

Jim Schmidt, Plano High School athletic director and director of the Plano Christmas Classic, and Jeff Owens, Marseilles Junior High superintendent and manager of the Marseilles Holiday Tournament, are both taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether or not their historic, popular basketball tourneys will actually take place this year come late December.

The decision to definitively cancel them will likely be made immediately after the next IHSA board meeting on Dec. 2.

If the events are not played, those two men and a lot of the people who make those labor-intensive events happen are going to have a lot more time to celebrate the holidays.

“I’ve been a part of the tournament as a worker or a manager since 1989, the last 19 as manager, so if we don’t play, I have no idea what I’ll be doing with myself that week,” said Schmidt, who oversaw 82 games in that week last December, including the sophomore tourney. “When the ball is in the air, it’s not so bad as long as the weather cooperates. All the prepping is where most of the work comes in.

“It will be different, not going to bed at 8 p.m. because I have a 14-hour day ahead. And it’ll be depressing come the day after Christmas, knowing you won’t be sitting at a basketball game, because that’s what I really enjoy.

“I’d rather be doing that than sitting at home.”

Plano has already lost its annual Reaper Wrestling Invitational, a 22-team event held in the second week of December. For this year’s revised Plano hoops tourney, Schmidt has nine teams – all from within the school’s COVID region – slated for two games each.

For Schmidt, in another way, time is running out. Having already planned to retire after the 2021-22 school year, having this year’s event canceled would leave him with only one to go.

“It will be time to pass the reins to someone else,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed doing it, trying to make it better each year, make it as fan-friendly as possible and that everyone has a good experience.”

At Marseilles, Owens opted to go with a shootout format involving 12 teams from its region.

“I’m probably going to put on weight, because I will be at home eating leftovers instead of snacking in the hospitality room,” Owens joked. “It’s going to be very odd. Maybe I’ll get to watch some college football bowl games, and on my big screen at home, not on the little laptop at the scorers table.

“I was talking to (Seneca AD) Steve Haines last week, and he didn’t know what to do with himself without their Turkey Tourney. … We haven’t officially canceled our shootout yet, but there’s no hurry to do that right now with all the games and officials scheduled. We’ll see what happens on Dec. 2.

“This whole thing is so fluid. Anything could happen. It’s frustrating.”

Owens, a member of the IESA board, said it has moved junior high wrestling as far back as it can go, and believes there will come a time when the IHSA “will run out of room on the calendar.”

“My gut feeling is that there will not be any indoor sports for high schools,” Owens said. “I hope I’m wrong.”