Despite COVID-19 limiting crowd numbers and forcing some teams to quarantine, girls basketball in Indiana is still moving along three weeks into the season, and the boys are set to tip off next week.
But across the Wabash River in Illinois there are questions as to whether the high school basketball season will even get started.
All winter sports were slated to begin Nov. 30 under the COVID-19 guidelines given by the Illinois High School Association, but on Thursday the IHSA Board of Directors decided in a virtual meeting to temporarily pause all winter sport activities.
“All IHSA sports and activities will cease by Nov. 20 for what we hope is a short-term pause,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement Thursday. “Given the rising COVID-19 cases in our state and region, we support (Gov. J.B. Pritzker's) mitigations and believe it is imperative for everyone in the state to do their part in following them so that we can return to high school sports participation as soon as possible.”
The Board plans to revisit the status of winter sports on Dec. 2, and again at their regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 14 if necessary.
Basketball practices were supposed to begin across the state this past Monday, but Red Hill didn't get to take the floor as the school went to remote learning due to the number of faculty contracting the virus. Boys coach Bryan Havill, who's the longest tenured basketball coach in the area, is unsure of what comes next.
“We did our contact days, our open gyms. We got as far as having a team meeting, making a practice schedule out, and we were ready to start Monday, but then we went remote," said Havill, who began coaching the Salukis in 2002. “It's been an emotional rollercoaster, not just for the coaches, but for the kids too.
“Three or four weeks ago the IHSA voted to go along with the season, and that got the kids' hopes up. (Red Hill) still had some hurdles to clear before we could play, but once the Governor squashed it, we kind of knew the IHSA would go along with it. It's just a waiting game now. I'd like to have answers for the kids, but I don't.”
Over the summer the IHSA opted to push football, boys soccer and volleyball into the “spring” season with practices for those sports set to start in mid-February. Havill noted that the football season not happening in the fall set a bad precedent for basketball getting started in the winter.
“I thought we should have played football out of the gate. I said then that if we couldn't play an outdoor sport (in August), I didn't think we'd be able to play any (in the winter),” Havill said. “It wasn't going to get better. It was going to get worse. Had we (played football), we would have a lot more flexibility. Now, if we keep pushing stuff back, we have zero.
“But we have to try to stay positive, though it hasn't been easy. I know if I were a senior, or my kid were a senior, I'd be distraught.”
Havill's son, Parker, was a senior two years ago. With the Illinois basketball season in limbo, rumors have circulated of athletes migrating to Indiana to play basketball. Quinn Miller, a transfer from Olney, made the move to play football at Lincoln in the fall, and Havill said he might have made a similar move if his son were still playing.
“It's frustrating, and it's hard to explain to the kids,” Havill said of high school athletes being able to play less than 20 miles away. “But kudos to (Indiana). I'm glad to see them playing. It hasn't happened (at Red Hill) yet, but I think we've already had some kids in the conference jump ship, and I can't blame them. My brother lives in Princeton, and if this were two years ago, I'd probably be trying to get Parker over there somehow.”
For now the Illinois athletic teams have to play the waiting game.
“I don't think much will be different the first part of December, especially with everyone coming back from Thanksgiving,” Havill said. “Hopefully by mid-December we'll know something positive, but I don't know. It's just a mess. I know I don't have all the answers, but it's been frustrating.
“I keep telling the kids, 'don't lose faith.' For some of them, (basketball) is all that matters right now.”