How the pandemic could affect prep sports rivalries, team dynasties

  • Geneva High School's girls basketball team has enjoyed a lot of success over the years. Geneva's Stephanie Hart, right, celebrates her game-winning shot with teammate Brie Borkowicz during the girls basketball Class 4A title game against Montini in March 2018 at Redbird Arena in Normal.

      Geneva High School's girls basketball team has enjoyed a lot of success over the years. Geneva's Stephanie Hart, right, celebrates her game-winning shot with teammate Brie Borkowicz during the girls basketball Class 4A title game against Montini in March 2018 at Redbird Arena in Normal. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2018

 
 
Posted7/10/2020 6:00 AM

The Illinois High School Association's plan to slowly and carefully move toward starting prep sports again in the fall raises hope that some sense of normalcy could return for prep athletes.

But the initiative is wrought with potential setbacks and potholes because the enemy is a virus that could care less about prep sports rivalries, school spirit and community support.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Because I've reported on high school sports in the past and have interacted with athletes, coaches and parents for many years, it's been easy to see how important this facet of life is for everyone involved.

In this era of social media, anyone interested can see what parents sometimes think about when it comes to their kids and sports. And we've known for years that some take it too far.

Still, prep sports carry a significant amount of weight. While there's likely no public record or statistics to support this, it's likely the threat to eliminate high school sports because budget problems have helped fuel the passage of many school referendums.

Another "importance factor" comes into play that, on occasion, provides a case study in priorities. Years ago, a family we knew moved from Geneva to St. Charles so their kids could compete on the St. Charles East swim teams. That made sense because Geneva didn't offer swim teams. But more recently, via social media posts, people moving into a particular area might inquire about which school has the best sports teams.

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In one case, it was whether St. Charles East or St. Charles North had better overall programs. This sort of comparison has also come into play for places like Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Naperville, Downers Grove or Aurora.

A few weeks ago, the Daily Herald was outlining the top high school team dynasties, which provided a sense of which schools have had extraordinary success in certain sports.

Still, when pitting one school against another in the same town, it is difficult to say which has the better sports programs overall and over a long time.

In addressing the St. Charles question, if the family has a son who happens to be a good bowler, they should know that St. Charles East boys recently won their first state title in that sport.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Both St. Charles high schools have a reputation for excellent swimming programs. Calvin Windle of St. Charles East, right, and Ricky Williams of St. Charles North congratulate each other after competing in the Boys 200 yard Freestyle race Feb. 22 during the IHSA Boys Swim and Dive Sectional Championship meet at St. Charles East High School.
  Both St. Charles high schools have a reputation for excellent swimming programs. Calvin Windle of St. Charles East, right, and Ricky Williams of St. Charles North congratulate each other after competing in the Boys 200 yard Freestyle race Feb. 22 during the IHSA Boys Swim and Dive Sectional Championship meet at St. Charles East High School. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Those who have aspiring swimmers or soccer players can sometimes pinpoint a program that stands out above all others year-in and year-out. St. Charles North won the boys swim title this year, but St. Charles East has much success and impressive history in the pool.

As for other schools, Geneva has been able to boast of prominence in girls' basketball for some time, while Batavia can say its football program stands out above most others in the area -- and the state.

Parents share opinions on that topic in Facebook threads. Still, my answer would have been it has to be equally beneficial to check out the schools' academic standards, curriculum, staff, facilities and reputation in other areas.

I'm guessing new move-ins have done their homework on all of the above, and the sports question would simply help tip their decision one way or another.

It doesn't hurt to get input on a beloved sports coach or program, but the fortunes of a high school sports team at any given time have much to do with the athletes. A handful of outstanding athletes on one team, and others who buy into the program and their roles on that team, create a recipe for success.

Batavia High School, known for its football team, celebrates in November after they demolished Hononegah during the second round of the IHSA Class 7A football playoffs in Batavia.
  Batavia High School, known for its football team, celebrates in November after they demolished Hononegah during the second round of the IHSA Class 7A football playoffs in Batavia. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2019

Not long ago, St. Charles East was setting records in the number of state championships it produced. St. Charles North has had plenty of success in all sports, too, but it hasn't been around as long as East.

You will never hear me say high school sports are not important. They play a huge role in building character and values and can trigger community pride and support like no other campus activity.

I want to see the plan to start high school sports in the fall to be successful, but it would be easier to envision if we could come up with the science to thwart the virus.

Still, is the success of a sports program important enough to pose as the key question to contemplate when moving into an area? If you consider your kid a great athlete, it would be easy to go that route. I'm just not sure it is the most critical factor to consider.

It was a good week:

Amid all of the continuing stress regarding pandemics, politicians and a heatwave, we were able to have a wonderful week as July opened.

Our first grandchild, Quinn Elsie Heun, came into our lives on July 1 at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

Our son Mitchell and his wife, Alyssa, had a long two days in the hospital room, under tight coronavirus safety measures. But all went well in the delivery of their baby girl, so we are grateful for that.

My role? I stayed at their home in Lisle and took care of their two big dogs. I lived like a bachelor for a couple of days, which meant my dinners were mostly carryout.

When I thought the day of Quinn's birth couldn't possibly get any better, I was surprised when the folks at Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Kitchen in Naperville said they had made an extra taco for my order by mistake. So it was a freebie.

And it was quite good. This place is worth a stop if you are ever venturing along North Naper Boulevard.

More good news:

As long as I'm on a roll with the good news, here's another item that many folks can possibly relate to: I have not yet endured a mosquito bite.

Sure, you could say mosquitoes haven't been really bad so far. But, if there were only one mosquito trolling the northern Illinois region, she would find me.

Mosquitoes like me that much, and I almost always pay the price.

Grocery store frontlines:

At this point in our coronavirus world, the deserved well wishes and thanks for our frontline health care workers, and responders have been plentiful.

Because I worked for a grocery store chain for seven years (four in high school, three while in college) before firmly steering my career into journalism, I do have a special appreciation for the work these frontline folks have done during this time.

It's not an easy job to fill store shelves during good times, let alone doing it during supply chain woes and high demand for specific products. Plus, they are cleaning areas for customers and taking precautions to keep safe themselves.

I did it all during my tenure -- bagged groceries, rounded up carts, worked the dairy department, worked the frozen food section, stocked shelves during night crew, and built displays.

To do all of that in a mask day after day is an extraordinary service.

Column carries weight:

An example of it never hurts for more readers to see your column, a reader in Carol Stream responded to my note a couple of weeks ago about how hard it was for my wife to find a set of 8-pound hand weights needed for an outdoor exercise class she teaches.

Sue Fehling saw my column in her edition of the Daily Herald in DuPage County and said she had 8-pound weights she hadn't used in years -- and they were ours if we wanted to come by her home and pick them up.

So we did. It was a nice gesture, and fun to chat with Sue and her husband when we stopped by.

dheun@sbcglobal.net

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