As contact days begin, season's still in doubt

Of the hundreds of basketball coaches not sure what to expect about the season that begins in November, Elgin's Dr. Nick Bumbales has a unique perspective.

It has to do with "Dr." in front of his name.

With a doctorate in chiropractic and a private practice in Elgin for nearly 20 years before becoming a physics teacher and girls coach at Elgin, Bumbales is watching closely the latest news with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deemed a medium risk sport when the Illinois High School Association came out with its plan for the school year, basketball is scheduled Nov. 16 to Feb. 13.

But that comes with plenty of restrictions, from only playing two games a week either in the school's conference or COVID region to not allowing multiple schools in tournament settings. That would rule out traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas tournaments, some with 50-plus years tradition.

"The old team physician in me tells me that as long as the virus is out there and there is not a vaccine, then there is a significant risk in possibly spreading the virus among us regardless of the precautions we take," said Bumbales, who also was the school's team physician for 21 years.

"That is not my goal. I like that we get to make our own decisions. I am watching other states' athletic teams to see things that are going well and things that are not."

The IHSA did allow 20 contact days that recently began and continue through October. Under current guidelines, teams are allowed to work on skill development and conditioning while wearing masks and social distancing, but they are not allowed contact drills.

Buffalo Grove boys coach Keith Peterson said his team will meet twice a week over the next two months.

"It is a great opportunity to make up for some lost time this summer," Peterson said. "I think it is important for our guys to get into the gym together and have some normalcy. I tell our team to control what we can control and all we can do right now is prepare for a season."

With Elgin on remote learning until at least January, boys coach Todd Allen is unsure the affect that will have. They won't begin their contact days until the end of the month.

"Personally, I'm not sure we can have a season if we aren't back in school," Allen said. "It is hard to have people indoors if kids aren't in school."

With Illinois sitting out of the football, boys soccer and girls volleyball seasons while other surrounding states play, many basketball coaches are hoping the winter doesn't follow the same path.

At a rally in Wheaton Tuesday, hundreds of parents and athletes showed up in support of returning to the classroom and bringing back sports.

"Everyone wants a season, but also everyone wants to be safe. If it means few or no fans, then so be it," said George Rosner, who has been coaching Streamwood's girls since 1981. "It will be something new for all of us, even a 40-year veteran."

"I want the student-athletes to be able to play," South Elgin boys coach Brett Johnson said. "The seniors that have worked hard for four years need to be able to play. Many want to play in college and some sort of season will help them. I hope we have some kind of state tournament as well."

Whether the season starts as scheduled, is delayed or worse, every option is on the table as administrators wait on updated guidelines from the IHSA and health officials.

Wrestling also is set to begin Nov. 13 but is a high risk sport. Antioch AD Steve Schoenfelder said there's a movement to push wrestling to the new summer season in May. He's already brainstorming ideas to make it unique with outdoor matches on the football field, among others.

"As a program, we are currently concentrating on the things in our control - improving ourselves and our teammates," Hersey boys basketball coach Austin Scott said. "2020 has taught us to not take anything for granted, so we are simply working hard to put ourselves in a position to succeed should we be afforded the opportunity."

Fenton girls coach Dave Mello is waiting for his district to approve contact days. His players are working at home on drills he gave them.

Mello also has a son who played in AAU games this summer, which gives him confidence a high school basketball season can be played.

"Having seen all of the AAU events that took place this summer, I really hope that we can have a season," Mello said. "I'm sure there will be stipulations in place to ensure the safety of everyone. Many of the coaches that I have spoken with are just hoping to have an opportunity to have some sort of season. It will present challenges but I think we can conduct a season safely."

Most winter schedules are still a work in progress as athletic directors and coaches see if any guidelines are changed.

Bartlett's first-year girls coach, Kristi Ragan, said their schedule is up in the air. Currently she is getting ready to start their contact days next week, erring on the side of caution in the workouts and drills they do.

As for the season?

"If we are able to keep our kids safe and the IHSA feels we are in a good place to have a season, that means a lot of other things have gone right in our communities and in our country," Ragan said. "There is a lot of talk from coaches, ADs and players at this time. We are truly facing unprecedented times. It is all about staying ready, and keeping perspective of all that is happening in the world at this time. It is a great time to grow and reflect as student-athletes, coaches, and people, in general."

Fenton girls basketball coach Dave Mello said the experience of watching his son play AAU basketball this summer gives him hope the high school basketball season can be played safely this winter. Daily Herald file photo
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