ROCKFORD — Tuesday’s announcement by the IHSA that spring sports tournaments are canceled provided a sliver of hope that some games might be played. But players and coaches from the area are not sure how to feel about that.
“It’s definitely strange, a strange feeling, and there’s just no closure,” Belvidere North’s track and field head coach Troy Yunk said. Yunk is retiring at the end of this season — whenever that may come. “For the student-athletes, for the families, for guys like me who were supposed to be saying goodbye, it’s just weird. It’s tough.”
While spring sports state tournaments have been canceled, the IHSA did not close the door on playing some regular-season games when the coronavirus pandemic eases.
IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said the board voted unanimously to cancel the tourneys; however, he said the board agreed to wait and see what happens with the pandemic and the stay-at-home order in Illinois before canceling regular-season games and meets.
“We weighed it all,” Anderson said. “And there was no way to conduct state championships, but if there was a way to let everybody play at all, we wanted to try and find it.”
So the IHSA will follow state and health guidelines, and if there is an opportunity to compete, even if it carries over into July, they will at least call another board meeting to discuss it.
And while that keeps hope alive for seniors and all spring sports athletes, it has coaches like Yunk perplexed. He’s already set to begin uniform collection and to tell his team “it’s wrapped up.”
Others expressed similar sentiments.
“I almost think they should have just closed the door,” Hononegah baseball head coach Matt Simpson said. Simpson also is an assistant basketball coach. “It’s the seniors I feel the worst for, and if they can have a last game, or a last tournament, that would be great. But I just don’t know how that could happen.”
And while athletes are frustrated by the lack of closure, many are glad the IHSA is holding out hope that some games can be played.
“The fact that we no longer have the opportunity to make it to state this year is devastating,” Stillman Valley senior catcher Aubrey Ashlock said of her softball season. “But hearing that we may get the opportunity to get some game time in is very exciting news.”
Hononegah was one of the favored baseball teams headed into the NIC-10 this season, with one of the leagues’ best pitchers in senior Payton Mather set to go.
“To not be able to have a postseason is definitely heartbreaking, since I’ve always wanted a regional title, and I think this year would have been that year,” Mather said. “But if the opportunity arises to play a few games against conference opponents, it would provide the seniors some closure and to be able to play together one last time.”
Belvidere North senior Madison Diercks will play Division II basketball at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, next year, but she was hoping to cap off her running career in style this track and field season. Now, she’s not sure what will happen.
“It’s just weird thinking that your last race was your last race,” she said, “and you didn’t even know it.”
Jay Taft: email@example.com; @JayTaft