Looking back at 2020 in high school sports: A year like no other

  • Fremd's Emily Klaczek plants a kiss on the first place trophy after the Vikings beat Lincoln-Way West in the Class 4A state basketball championship March 7 in Normal.

      Fremd's Emily Klaczek plants a kiss on the first place trophy after the Vikings beat Lincoln-Way West in the Class 4A state basketball championship March 7 in Normal. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Bill Pemstein -- here with wife Eileen -- was a longtime Daily Herald prep sports freelancer, who died Dec. 6 from ALS. He was 64.

    Bill Pemstein -- here with wife Eileen -- was a longtime Daily Herald prep sports freelancer, who died Dec. 6 from ALS. He was 64. Courtesy of the Pemstein family

  • Neil Shalin of Naperville, who spent many years as a Daily Herald prep sports freelancer, passed away Sept. 26 at 76.

    Neil Shalin of Naperville, who spent many years as a Daily Herald prep sports freelancer, passed away Sept. 26 at 76. DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

 
 
Updated 12/31/2020 5:42 PM

The 2019-2020 high school sports year started off like any other.

Holiday basketball tournaments concluded, boys and girls hoops teams headed into the 2020 portion of the season knowing what they had to do to make a postseason run.

 

Wrestling, boys swimming, bowling and girls gymnastics were also in full swing and while those sports were fortunate enough to conclude their seasons, as did girls basketball, boys basketball and many other sports came to a halt in mid-March.

We take a look back at 2020 in high school sports -- a year like no other.

The evolution of sports in 2020

January, February and even early March were progressing as per normal.

Girls gymnastics state finals were at Palatine High School. Carmel, led by Clare Keane and Lyndsey Basara, finished second. Kayla Bailey helped Lake Zurich to the third-place trophy.

Boys swimming held its state finals at Evanston High School and St. Charles North, with only one champion -- sophomore Aleksej Filipovic in the butterfly -- used its incredible balance to outscore Glenbrook South 137-128 to earn the state title.

Individual wrestling state championships were held in Champaign and Herald City claimed 11 titles. A week later in Bloomington, Montini was crowned a dual-team state champ, the Broncos' third straight title and 16th in program history.

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In bowling, St. Charles East and Vernon Hills took the 1-2 spots in the team standings at the boys' state finals, while Schaumburg junior Haylie Frick was second at the girls' state tournament.

As we rolled into March, with no thoughts of a pandemic coming, Fremd won its first state championship in girls basketball, capturing the Class 4A title game over Lincoln-Way West at Redbird Arena in Normal. The Vikings of coach Dave Yates, reached the title game by beating Lake Park, a state finalist for the first time, in the semifinals.

After 17 years and 521 wins, Jason Nichols left his job as girls basketball coach at Montini to take the women's basketball coaching job at Morton College.
  After 17 years and 521 wins, Jason Nichols left his job as girls basketball coach at Montini to take the women's basketball coaching job at Morton College. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

In Class 3A, Montini finished third, the 10th time in 15 years under head coach Jason Nichols the Broncos would bring home state hardware.

Two things we didn't know March 7 -- after 17 seasons and 521 wins, Nichols would leave for the women's basketball job at Morton College, and that March 7 would be the last state tournament of 2020.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The day it stopped, and beyond

March 12. The day things came to a halt that no one could have predicted would last as long as it has.

The boys basketball teams from Timothy Christian and Aurora Christian were in Peoria, getting ready to compete in the Final Four of the Class 2A and 1A state tournaments, respectively. Ten area teams were preparing for Class 3A and 4A sectional finals.

The COVID-19 pandemic concerns had canceled or altered some conference tournaments in college basketball, but the Illinois High School Association was forging ahead with the state finals, albeit with only 60 fans per school allowed in Carver Arena.

And then the news came. All further winter sports state tournament activities were canceled.

Despite the boys basketball season coming to an abrupt halt, the Daily Herald named our annual girls and boys all-area teams and our team captains -- Angela Dugalic of Maine West (who was also named Illinois Ms. Basketball), Darionne Rogers of Lake Park, Alyssa Crenshaw of Dundee-Crown and Kate Bullman of Grayslake Central for girls; Max Christie of Rolling Meadows, Markus Skeete of Waubonsie Valley, Conor Enright of Mundelein and Beau Frericks of Cary-Grove for boys.

A quiet spring, summer and fall

With all Illinois schools closed until April 30 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the IHSA issued a statement March 21 setting May 1 as the target date to resume sports.

But on April 21, as the pandemic raged, the IHSA canceled all spring state tournaments, prompting school districts to cancel spring activities.

Lawsuits and rallies followed as states around us continued with sports.

Attempts were made to restart some form of activity in June, but as the days wore on it was becoming obvious the pandemic was winning.

On July 14, nine days after the IHSA issued Return to Play Guidelines, the department of public health rebuked some of those guidelines, prompting the IHSA to relinquish control and defer to the IDPH and the governor's office for further guidelines, which is how things remain today.

Staying optimistic as summer moved into fall, that optimism waned as the pandemic continued to dominate. Football, girls volleyball and boys soccer were postponed to spring. Golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and cross country teams played a modified season with COVID protocols and no state finals were held.

It was clear the 2020-2021 sports year was going to be unlike any other. The winter season was to begin Nov. 16 and run through Feb. 13.

Pritzker announced Nov. 17 all sports were on hold until further notice.

Saluting the best of the best

The Daily Herald prep sports staff didn't shut down with the pandemic, although we did reinvent much of the way we reported on high school sports.

Here's a look at the early summer months:

• Our athletes of the year were: Josh Methner of Hersey and Anna Mae King of Barrington for the Northwest suburbs; Sam Tumilty of Willowbrook and Katelynne Hart of Glenbard West for DuPage County; Juan De La Cruz of Warren and Kate Bullman of Grayslake Central for Lake County; and Quinn Urwiler of Batavia and Kathryn Schmidt of Burlington Central for the Fox Valley.

We couldn't conduct our Prep Sports Excellence Awards gala, but we did honor the recipients of those special awards in print and online:

Sweet Moment: West Chicago's boys state soccer championship and Fremd's girls basketball state title.

Heart and Soul: Naperville North's Nick Thompson and the St. Charles East and North girls swim teams.

Spirit of Sportsmanship: Stevenson boys golf coach John Rueth and Kaneland's Rachel Richtman.

Overcoming Obstacles: St. Viator's Jack Mahoney and Geneva's Jill Jackson.

Whiz Kids: Glenbard West's Joey Richmond and Barrington's Anna Mae King.

Beyond the Bench: Naperville North's Barry Baldwin and Bartlett's Brad Hunt.

Remembering the people we lost

We close today by remembering a few of the ones we lost during 2020.

Bob Frisk, who led the Daily Herald sports department for 50 years, passed away May 16 at 83.
Bob Frisk, who led the Daily Herald sports department for 50 years, passed away May 16 at 83. - Daily Herald File Photo

• Bob Frisk. The patriarch of the Daily Herald sports department for 50 years, Bob passed away on May 16 after a long battle with cancer. He was 83. Bob will forever be remembered by all those he touched, not only with his words but his actions. There was no better ambassador for high school sports than Bob. He taught us all so much, things we carry still in our daily professional and personal lives.

• Ron Johnson. Over 40 years, Johnson amassed 710 wins as a high school basketball coach at Kaneland and St. Charles. The Elburn resident, No. 18 on the all-time list for most basketball wins by a boys basketball coach in Illinois, passed away on Feb. 23 at the age of 87.

• Gary Scholz, a longtime coach and athletic director at Schaumburg, where the football stadium bears his name, died Sept. 7 at 90.

• Bob Schick spent more than 30 years as a coach and athletic director at Geneva. He died Oct. 19 at 90.

• Dick Smith. Thought by many to be the greatest coach in Naperville history, Smith was 98 when he passed away earlier this month.

• Ken Snow. Remembered as one of the best soccer players in Illinois history (he played at Hoffman Estates), Snow died June 21 from complications related to COVID-19. He was 50.

• Neil Shalin and Bill Pemstein were longtime contributors to the Daily Herald prep sports pages as freelancers. Most of Neil's work was in DuPage County; Bill was a staple around Lake County schools. Neil passed Sept. 26 at 76. Bill, who spent several years battling ALS, died Dec. 6 at 64.

• Keith Noreen, a member of Barrington's 1986 state champion baseball team, died Dec. 19. He was 52.

Many more lost their lives in 2020, and we remember them all fondly.

Looking ahead

The vaccine is here but so is the pandemic. We have a simple wish list for 2021: Good health, focus on safety, and when the time is right, the return of high school sports.

Happy New Year.

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