SHG gathering after state finals cancellation, 'like going to a wake'
Thursday evening’s announcement that the Illinois High School Association had canceled the remaining boys basketball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic probably hit every player and coach still alive in the postseason hard, but few were more disappointed than the Sacred Heart-Griffin High School team.
On Tuesday, the Cyclones were elated after defeating Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin team 59-56 in the Class 2A Springfield Supersectional to make the state tournament for the first time since 1948.
“It’s a shock,” senior Henry Salvo said. “It’s always been a dream of mine since grade school that me and my friends that are seniors now, going to Christ the King and going to SHG basketball games, knowing that we’ll be here someday and maybe we can make a difference. Now it’s a heartbroken situation.”
When the IHSA made the decision on Thursday, some players felt it had been inevitable while others were surprised.
The team was on the road back home from Peoria when the announcement was made. The team then gathered at Papa Franks restaurant on Wabash Avenue.
Bob Hamilton, the father of freshmen twins Jake and Will Hamilton, saw head coach Tim Allen, assistant coach Scott Eades and a couple of players outside the front doors and said, “This is like going to a wake.”
SHG coach Tim Allen said there might not be more appropriate words.
“Still trying to think of some,” he said.
The end of his high school career hit Kyle Ingram, one of the six seniors on the SHG team, hard.
“I heard when we were getting out of the van at (SHG’s) West Campus and my first reaction was denial and then from there and I just went and sat in my car and the tears came on,” Ingram said. “It was unfortunate but being the only team at SHG to end their season on a win will be something we’ll all hold dearly and something we’ll all hopefully be remembered by.”
Other area teams also saw their season end, but in the Class 3A sectional round. Lincoln and Lanphier were scheduled to play for the 3A Lincoln Sectional title on Friday while Chatham Glenwood was supposed to play East St. Louis for the Mount Vernon Sectional championship.
Freshman J’veon Bardwell was asleep as the rest of the team found out. As the van was nearing SHG, he woke up to the news.
“I was wondering the whole day . . . but I knew we had a fair chance of that happening,” Bardwell said. “I’m not going to say (the season) went down the drain. We learned a lot this year; we came together. I just feel bad for my senior friends.”
When the NBA puts its season on an indefinite hiatus on Wednesday, junior Elliott Green said he thought this could be on the horizon.
“These past two days, you see all this stuff getting canceled, you’ve got to think something could happen,” Green said.
Allen said it wasn’t the NBA’s announcement on Wednesday, or even the NHL’s similar decision earlier on Thursday. But as college basketball conference tournaments — including the Big Ten Conference — started to get nixed, he knew it was a distinct possibility.
Junior Andrew Schluter said the coaches told the players to be ready for anything.
“Earlier in the day our coaches were telling us to be prepared and stay ready and I think we were just ready to go out and play,” Schluter said. “It’s sad that the season had to come to an end like this without getting to play on the hardwood one more time.”
Earlier Thursday, the IHSA announced that games would be played but with just 60 fans per team in attendance. SHG assistant coach Scott Eades saw that in its own way of being a major disappointment.
“You heard the news this morning that they were going to 60 tickets and that was enough of a shock because you have grandparents that waited a lifetime to see their kids and now are not going to be able to go,” Eades said.
While Allen said that future success is not guaranteed, with a talented group of underclassmen returning next season, at least they will have a chance to get back to the state tournament. But six seniors — Ingram, Salvo, Noah Newton, Reid Taylor, Jack Thoma and Isaiah Davis — won’t get that chance.
“Six kids that don’t have that ability and that’s what hurts, having those kids not be able to come back and compete for a state championship, what they worked so hard to do,” Allen said. “Those kids took us farther than anybody’s taken them before.”
One of those seniors, Ingram, said when they get together in the future — perhaps at the 20-year reunion in 2040 — the successes of the season like a City Tournament co-championship, 23 wins and regional, sectional and supersectional titles will be the dominant memories.
“I think it will,” Ingram said. “(Junior) Isaiah Thompson . . . said, ‘In 20 years from now, I’ll tell my kids we won state because we didn’t lose any games, we were ready to compete.’
“And the good things that happened, all the bonding we did as a team with these kids, I think that will completely outweigh the fact that we won’t be able to play. It was a special year but it wasn’t the way we wanted it to end. But nevertheless, it will be something I’ll remember forever.”
IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said in a press release, “We appreciate the patience and understanding that we have received from everyone involved in this process over the past 72 hours. We have stressed the fluidity of this situation and have been transparent about the possibility that a suspension or cancellation could occur. While we had support from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Peoria City/County Health Department to continue our events with limited spectators, it has become untenable to continue the events among our member schools.
“Multiple schools who are participating or hosting these sports and activities have been forced to withdraw from those roles, clarifying the need for the IHSA to take definitive action. The Board considered suspending the events, but after deliberate discussion, did not believe that was a realistic option within the timeline. We feel for everyone who has been impacted, but must put the health and safety of all involved ahead of these events.”
Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.