Allowing club and high school sports in same season creates choices, potential problems
The Illinois High School Association made a recent decision that caused quite a bit of controversy -- and we aren't talking about basketball.
With a new four-season calendar that shuffled sports around, an unintended consequence emerged.
For sports like baseball and softball, whose IHSA seasons now extend through late June, those players have a new conflict with their travel teams that begin playing in late May to early June.
It's a similar story for girls volleyball players used to playing their club seasons in March and April, except that's now when the IHSA moved the high school season to. Same with boys soccer.
So the IHSA considered, and approved, a move to allow a one-time exception that gives athletes a chance to play both on their high school and club/travel team at the same time. If, for example, a Barrington girls volleyball player also has a Saturday tournament with her club team, she will now be able to go play in that club tourney while maintaining eligibility at Barrington.
That was not allowed in previous years. It was one or the other. Pick high school or club.
And like so much this year, this IHSA decision created mixed reactions.
"I have reservations because I feel it could open up a Pandora's box that will be difficult to close," Neuqua Valley AD Braden Adkins said. "I think we are putting kids in a tough situation to make a choice in certain situations."
There are others who look at it differently.
"I'm thankful that the IHSA is giving this one-time exemption, because I think it is the right decision for athletes," Stevenson AD Trish Betthauser said. "I'm certain that it will take collaboration on behalf of athletes, high school coaches, and travel coaches to make the experience a success."
Wauconda athletic director Mark Ribbens said a number of his coaches were happy about the decision. They were worried their athletes would choose their travel teams and not come out for their high school team.
"I'm sure there will be some club/travel things that happen at the same time," Ribbens said. "It gives the kids a couple avenues to go out and participate. None of our coaches have an adversarial relationship with club and travel coaches. They are open to working with them."
Adkins said his main worry is baseball. On one hand, the exception doesn't begin until June 3. On the other, that's the most important time of the season at Neuqua when the Wildcats might have a Saturday doubleheader to decide a conference championship on the same day the travel team has scheduled a big exposure tournament. Which one should the player pick?
And what happens when the travel team is expecting a player to throw 70 pitches on a Sunday after the player threw 80 for his high school team Thursday?
"Our coaches are going to want them with them in a heavily committed way like they always are," Adkins said. "The club coaches are going to feel the same way. We would be causing some wear and tear on our athletes. I don't think on purpose by any means but that possibility could be there. Kids are not going to want to displease or lose their position on a team for either one of them. They are going to push themselves. That's just the nature of our athlete."
Betthauser shares that concern.
"I'm personally nervous about how this will play out with baseball, specifically with pitch counts," Betthauser said. "I'm confident that high school coaches will create positive environments where this information is shared between everyone involved."
Seeing both sides
Tom Poulin, who coaches the St. Charles North softball team, is hopeful this won't have too much of an affect on his team.
"I see both sides of the debate," Poulin said. "I look at it somewhat as I would like to believe our softball players enjoy representing St. Charles North, enjoy playing with the coaching staff, enjoy playing with each other so much that they would want to be with us. We can't force them to choose one or the other, we can just continue to do our job."
Adkins is interested to see how the relationship goes between high school and club coaches, which will be key to making sure this new rule works out in the best interests for the student-athletes.
"Most club coaches that I communicate with have been great," Adkins said. "As a high school teacher or coach, our first mindset is always the kid. We're not out here trying to make a dollar. Our club coaches survive by the players on their team and the income they bring from those players. They want to make sure that they are competing at a high level because that's a marketing piece for them.
"We see it in those sports (soccer) already that now compete in the same seasons with them is going to create a larger choice for those kids. We may end up losing a few because of choices they have to make."