May 20, 2022 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

SJO to discuss basketball in December

The St. Joseph-Ogden Board of Education decided to wait until December to make any final recommendation about basketball.

The state is currently in Tier 3 mitigations which means the Illinois High School Association’s winter sports season will be “temporarily paused.”

The IHSA had given schools the go-ahead to play boys and girls basketball this winter but earlier this week said it was unlikely winter sports would resume before January.

Before Tier 3 mitigations were put in place, the IHSA had told member schools that practices could start Nov. 16 and games could start Nov. 30.
Athletes and coaches at SJO were hopeful that they could have a somewhat normal basketball season.

Six SJO basketball players attended at the November School Board meeting and urged the board to give them an answer either way.

SJO girls basketball player Payton Jacob spoke for the students.

“Four years just doesn’t seem like enough time to play basketball for SJO,” Jacob said. “Being stuck in the waiting makes this all so much harder.”

Jacob said the athletes who were able to compete with their teams in the fall were able to release some of the mental strain that everyone has felt during the pandemic.

“For some of us, high school is the only chance to play basketball,” Jacob said.

Jacob told the board that the athletes have respected and obeyed the stipulations put in place for them to play but they understood the board was in a difficult position.

Superintendent Brian Brooks said the basketball situation was one of the more challenging things he has had to deal with.

“This directly impacts kids,” he said. “I feel it is unfair, not just to the kids of SJO but to kids across the entire state, particularly in the sport of basketball.”

Brooks said he cannot understand why basketball was reclassified as a high risk sport considering as a medium risk sport you could not play games against other teams.

“This made it more difficult to get to a place to play basketball games at any point,” he said. “Kids have been put in the middle of politics in this.”

Brooks said insurance companies in the state of Illinois have told districts that they cannot cover them if they move forward with games.

“There would be zero protection,” he said. “I don’t know who we would play at this point.”

Brooks said he feels basketball could have been played safely and the district pleaded with the Governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health to allow schools to have input.

Brooks said the state has urged basketball be moved to the spring which poses its own issues.

“The IHSA has a problem in that they have a lot of sports to offer in the next six months,” he said. “There are no good answers here. It is just a terrible situation for the kids.”

Brooks said the Illinois State Board of Education has urged schools to follow the Illinois Department of Public Health Guidelines and he was urging the district to follow that guidance.

School board president Jim Rein said the liability factor was a big part of the situation for school districts.

“I want everyone to play sports,” he said. “I just don’t know how we do it. We all want the kids to play ball not just basketball but every sport but we are in unprecedented times here.”

Despite the grim outlook for a season, coaches and players were trying to remain optimistic.

SJO boys head coach Kiel Duval, whose team had been holding limited contact workouts before the new mitigations were put in place, said athletes had been wearing masks and socially distancing as much as possible during practice.

“ It’s tough being a high school kid right now with all that’s going on. They’ve had so much taken away from them and cannot be with their friends, so the possibility of them getting a season after all would be a bright light in their lives,” Duval said.

SJO boys basketball player Ty Pence said he thought it was important for the seniors to be allowed to play basketball and even if they had to play in front of no crowd that would be better than not playing.

“During the AAU season this summer, we were limited to one fan per game, so there were some very small crowds that we played in front of. Coaches will have game film to look at when recruiting this year, so the fact that there will be nobody in the stands doesn’t bother me that much,” Pence said.

Senior Jackson Rydell said he thinks it is important that basketball is played and the idea of a season has given him something to focus on.

“With baseball getting cancelled in the spring, that was a very trying time with very little to do. Then, when football was moved to the spring, the focus began to shift to whether basketball would be next on the list,” Rydell said.

Rydell hopes to play in college and without a season, that would be difficult to get his game in front of the eyes of coaches.

“I have been adding a lot of game film to put on my recruiting profile in hopes that I will get some exposure, but with the AAU season cut short, it was difficult to compile a lot. When we started the limited contact workouts, everybody seemed rejuvenated and ready to make a statement from how the season ended in 2020,” Rydell said.

Junior Evan Ingram, who echoed much of what his teammates said.

“When football was moved to the late winter/early spring, basketball was the only other sport that we had hopes of playing. We think we have a pretty good team coming back this season and it wouldn’t be fair for the seniors to not have a final season to play, so I hope we get the chance,” Ingram said.

Girls basketball player Peyton Vallee said she is still hopeful there will be a season.

“I was super excited when my dad showed me the article that they (the IHSA) was moving ahead with plans to play this winter. I fully expected them to push the season back or cancel it altogether, but the fact that we even have a chance to play comes as really good news to me,” Vallee said.

Despite the constant changes, Brooks said the students have been phenomenal through this very challenging time.

“They are great kids, from great families so they are doing what they are supposed to do but every week they just get something else taken away from them,” he said. “Even if it is just the hope of a season. I think the social emotional well being of kids needs to be taken into consideration. That is part of the equation.”

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