Radtke: High school sports in 2021 -- a year like no other

  • Wearing masks while playing sports has become part of our new normal.

      Wearing masks while playing sports has become part of our new normal. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Longtime Naperville North track icon Gus Scott passed away in 2021.

      Longtime Naperville North track icon Gus Scott passed away in 2021. Dave Oberhelman | Staff Photographer

  • Wheaton North quarterback Mark Forcucci heads toward the student section as he celebrates the Falcons' 35-6 victory over St. Rita at the Class 7A state championship in November at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

      Wheaton North quarterback Mark Forcucci heads toward the student section as he celebrates the Falcons' 35-6 victory over St. Rita at the Class 7A state championship in November at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/31/2021 9:50 AM

One thing Craig Anderson will never be mistaken for is a pessimist.

Throughout 2021 the executive director of the Illinois High School Association has remained optimistic, sometimes to a fault.

 

Through everything pandemic this year, Anderson found a silver lining each of the many times we talked.

Such was the case when we spoke a couple of weeks ago, the conversation ranging from the shutdown of sports, to the restart of sports, to the second shutdown, to a restart that continues today, even though COVID protocols took their toll on several holiday basketball tournaments.

"The start of 2021 had its challenges," Anderson said. "Our schools had to navigate a lot. But ultimately we culminated with spring sports having a state series and we crowned state champions.

"That makes me reflect with a positive perspective."

With that, we take look back on a year unlike any other.

Winter 'wonder' land

When we woke New Year's Day, the biggest thing we were missing -- other than a flight to a beach in Florida -- was reflecting on having no holiday tournaments, something that in a normal year was commonplace.

Instead, we wondered when and if sports would return.

We got our answer Jan. 27 when the IHSA, with the blessing of the Illinois Department of Public Health, released a calendar for the resumption of sports.

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Most notably, basketball competition began for schools in regions that had reached Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan, after those schools had conducted seven days of practices. The season would end March 13, with no state playoffs, and attendance was limited.

Players, coaches, officials and fans were required -- with limited exceptions -- to wear a mask, a mandate that remains in place today.

Spring sparks hope

As basketball and other winter sports concluded their truncated seasons, progress was being made with the pandemic. The vaccine was available, albeit at first not to most of the teenagers who were competing.

Practices began in early March for boys soccer, football, girls volleyball, boys gymnastics and water polo. Contests in those sports began in mid-March, again with an abbreviated schedule, which included a six-game football season, and no state series in any sport.

Despite many contests being canceled due to COVID, it's fair to point out the majority of them were played.

On to "summer"

April isn't exactly summer, but it was dubbed so by the IHSA and hope ran abundant there would be state playoffs in most, if not all, sports.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Early in May, we learned a full state tournament series would be held in all "summer" sports, with the exception of wrestling.

Lake Park (2nd in Class 4A baseball and boys volleyball), Timothy Christian (2nd in 2A baseball and 1A girls soccer), Harvest Christian (1st in 1A boys track), Neuqua Valley (1st in 3A track), Naperville North (1st in girls water polo) and Stevenson (1st in boys water polo, 2nd in girls water polo) all earned state trophies.

A "normal" fall

As the pandemic weakened, we came to fall with normal seasons in all sports. Despite some COVID-related cancellations, there was a regular season in all sports and no attendance limits.

Wheaton North (7A) and Cary-Grove (6A) claimed state football titles. Metea Valley (4A), Montini (2A) were girls volleyball champs. In boys soccer, York won 3A, Fremd was second, and Wheaton Academy won the 1A crown.

Where we stand today

The winter season for 2021-2022 has had its share of hiccups -- some big wrestling tournaments have canceled and several teams have been forced to pull out of basketball tournaments due to the virus. But the majority of scheduled games are being played, and we commend those involved who are doing so safely.

"Being indoors, there is cause for caution," Anderson said. "Everyone needs to monitor their health closely, but I'm optimistic we will move forward with all of our state championships between now and June."

Those we lost

Finally, we remember local high school sports figures who passed away in 2021:

• Buffalo Grove football icon Grant Blaney.

• Longtime Larkin AD and football coach Ray Haley.

• Dom Cannata, who coached basketball at Larkin and many other schools.

• Gus Scott, a track and field staple from Naperville North.

Have a great 2022 with good health and happiness in the months ahead.

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