Radtke: Keeping hope alive for a winter sports season is all we can do right now
As we enter a Thanksgiving week like none other we've seen in our lifetime, high school sports are on "pause."
And for the first time in the past month, the Illinois High School Association is acknowledging that, choosing last week to also put on pause its defiance of public health guidelines.
While some observers have lashed out at the IHSA for "kicking the can down the road again," what was it left with?
To its credit, the IHSA invited representatives from Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office and the department of public health to its Thursday board meeting to discuss the future of high school sports. Government leaders declined the invitation. With Pritzker announcing Tier 3 mitigations earlier in the week, the board meeting was somewhat moot.
The board meets Dec. 2 to revisit the status of winter sports.
Don't expect any changes out of that discussion. Regardless of your stance on the issues surrounding the pandemic, it's not a conscious thought to believe things are magically going to improve enough in two weeks to allow for winter sports to resume.
It's not time to throw in the towel on a winter sports season. There are too many possible scenarios to dive into here, but suffice to say the IHSA will not give up on a winter season until and if it has to.
In addition to wanting student-athletes competing as soon as safely possible, the IHSA's finances will continue a free fall if there is a second year of no state basketball tournaments.
So, while we "pause" on winter sports, we also today send a message of hope.
"The biggest thing right now is to keep hope," says Hersey senior girls basketball player Mary Kate Fahey, a captain of her team who will play at New York University next year.
"It's been really frustrating the past couple of weeks knowing we should be in a Thanksgiving tournament. Everything is up in the air but we still have hope, and hope keeps us going."
With more school districts going to full remote learning, it's not easy for teenage athletes to forge on, with the uncertainty of when and if they will return to school, practices and games looming.
"We're sticking together as best we can meeting on Zoom and FaceTime," said Fahey of the Hersey team, which played for the Mid-Suburban League championship and won a regional title last year.
"We're communicating as much as possible. It's hard for some people but that's all we can do right now."
Like other athletes, Fahey is finding ways to stay sharp.
"There's a few gyms open and outdoor courts," she said. "But it's tough when it gets dark and cold to use the outdoor courts. I'm just trying to stay positive. Our team has a lot of unfinished business and a lot of goals for this season. We hope we get a chance to prove ourselves."
There's that word again -- hope.
"Despite the obstacles this unprecedented school year has presented, the board's vision to provide participation opportunities in all IHSA sports has not wavered," IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said after Thursday's board meeting.
Hope may be alive but it would serve us all well to not have false hope. Some major improvement will be needed in all the metrics used to get back to Tier 4 mitigations, and Pritzker has made that as clear as a full-moon sky. Even when that happens, basketball will need to be reclassified from its current high-risk status in order to resume.
"As school and nonschool sports temporarily cease in Illinois, and throughout the Midwest, it is a great reminder that putting the health and safety of our fellow citizens at the forefront in the short-term will allow all levels of athletics to thrive in the long-term," Anderson said.
We couldn't agree more.
Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.
And keep hope alive.