Pandemic impacts high school athletes

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

Marengo Community High School players celebrate after winning the 2019 Wauconda 3A Sectional title. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, professional and collegiate sports schedules for the spring and summer were halted and still remain in a state of indecision as to how they will be resumed, if at all.

Another casualty, largely overlooked, is the impact on high school teams and the athletes entering their senior year and working toward one last season that could have led to a championship or sports scholarship.

An April 21 directive, issued during a video conference session of the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors, summarily canceled all spring state tournaments and suspended the summer contact days for the 2020 season.

The step followed on the heels of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education formally closing all state high schools April 17, and the substitution of online learning for the duration of the academic year, as a protective measure for students.

In a press release, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson stated, “We support the (closure) decision, and given the logistics, we simply felt we could not conduct state tournaments that meet the expectations of our member schools this spring. As disappointing as it may be for students, it is the right decision for their health and safety, as well as the general public, as we cope with this unprecedented pandemic.”

Spring sports are girls badminton, boys gymnastics, bass fishing, boys and girls track & field, boys & girls water polo, girls soccer, boys tennis, boys & girls lacrosse, boys volleyball, baseball and softball.

McHenry County teams have been well-represented going deep into postseason tournaments. The class level designations have changed in the last two years, from school enrollment size to regional pairings with conference merges and affiliations.

Dwain Nance, Marengo varsity softball head coach. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The county’s rural Marengo Community High School is one such impacted site that normally revels in its spring sports and athletes, along with the academic achievements of the entire student body. The Indians’ softball team has a long and storied program, most recently winning the IHSA Class 3A State Championship in 2017, and the IHSA Class 3A Wauconda Sectional in 2019.

“We are extremely disappointed, but understand that there are bigger things in life than a softball season,” said Dwain Nance, Marengo varsity softball head coach. “I know a lot of our players are getting some time in hitting, fielding, pitching … and hopefully still doing their calisthenics.

“We have been doing some things along this experience … we have done video Google chats about the program, about player interests and hobbies … we really feel for our seniors, and we have five graduating: Dani Hartmann, Olivia Pribyl, Brooke Aubry, Abagail Powers, and Mikayla Wzientek,” he said. “I really wanted one more season with them. They are such great people to be around.”

Since 2008, softball team members of each graduating class at the high school have reached the state finals. The 2020 class would have held the last such distinction. Future players come through the Marengo-Union Girls Softball program, which utilizes the team’s coaches and teaches basic fundamentals of play.

“We are in a fortunate situation with the MUGS program and summer ball,” said Nance. “Most of our kids will be playing traveling ball through the program, once they are able, so they’ll have summer ball to look forward to … but at this point, we don’t know if it will happen. For Marengo, we have some good players coming back for the 2021 season, and there haven’t been any classification changes meaning we will stay at Class 2A for now.”

Nance views the 2020 season as part of a learning experience.

“This has been tough for all of us. Personally, I look forward to the spring season, I really enjoy the journey and the experiences that we have throughout it. We always win our fair share of games, but that is not always the focus in our program.

“This has been a crazy time, for sure. Winning is the by-product of doing many things correctly, and coming together as a team. And I think that is the lesson.”