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It’s time to let them play

Editor’s note: Just as I was to post this column, it was announced by the IDPH early Friday afternoon that any region in Phase 4 (presently regions 3, 5, 6) may start playing basketball. Bureau County is in Region 4. So, we are getting closer.

If you’re like me and watch the Quad Cities sports on the 10 o’clock news every night, you’ve seen full reports of volleyball, football, basketball and wrestling being played in Iowa all school year.

It’s a punch in the gut to the kids across the river in Illinois who are itching to play, the coaches who want to coach and sports writers who make a living covering sports.

There are also many area kids playing club sports across the river and younger kids are traveling across state lines to participate in individual sports. There are just as many who would like to, but don’t have the means to.

And yet despite these activities in Iowa and other neighboring states as well as nationwide with no reports of major, sports-fueled outbreaks of COVID-19, sports in Illinois have largely been on pause with the clearance only given this week to allow practices.

Illinois Representative Darin Lahood reiterated this data in a letter he penned to Governor J.B. Pritzker that he shared on Twitter Thursday. He called on the Illinois governor to lift the “overreaching restrictions” on all youth and high school sports.

Kids just want something to do. Bureau Valley junior Adam Johnson was tired of sitting at home, so he went out for the spring musical and got a lead part.

We should be in the middle of basketball season. There are 46 states in the nation, according to MaxPreps, who are playing basketball or have a start-up date in place. Illinois is one of four states who don’t.

The National Federation of High Schools has categorized basketball to be “medium risk,” a guidance that is being followed by the vast majority of states across the country. Gov. Pritzker, however, moved it from a “medium-risk” sport to “high-risk,” and announced basketball would be put on “pause” late fall.

Is it all about safety concerns, or politics?

Longtime St. Bede Lady Bruins basketball coach Tom McGunnigal said it’s upsetting.

“The IHSA and their SMAC have data, have a plan, and I am pretty certain they will get compliance for the schools to safely conduct sports for these kids. And that is what this about, or should be about more than ever, the kids getting exercise, competition, memories and a chance,” he said.

“They have not even been given a chance to play – not one shot at it. How is that even possible? How can you categorically deny even a shot at doing something you love to do? Nobody wants anyone to get sick, but we deal with risk for health in sport all the time.

McGunnigal said his athletes are definitely hurting and the biggest hurt he sees is complacency.

“They are resigning to the fact that they are not even getting a chance to play. That hurts the worst of all,” he said.

There has been a glimmer of hope this week with the IDPH giving “low-risk” sports like bowling, swimming and gymnastics the green light to return to play.

The rest of our sports, however, remain on pause, only given clearance to practice this week with no assurances they will ever get to play any games.

The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association sent a letter to Gov. Pritzker this week, which has been circulated throughout social media, urging him to allow their kids to play and have provided data to back up reasons why they should.

In summary, the IBCA said: “We believe the rewards and benefits for our student-athletes and coaches participating in sports, particularly as we see continued improvement in the management of pandemic, are worth the steps to allow basketball to be safely played at the high school level in Illinois. With time running out to provide our student-athletes with important and meaningful experiences that will shape them for a lifetime, now is the time to allow interscholastic competition in basketball before our young people lose these opportunities forever.”

I know many coaches and athletic directors I’ve spoken to this week are afraid of getting the kids hopes up only to dash them once again, but all say it’s worth the try.

The IHSA calendar is dwindling more and more each day.

There are no redshirts given for high school kids. They get four years to play and they’re done. The seniors can’t come back and play next year.

It is time.

Let them play!

Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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