Preps Talk

Edgy: Too many IHSA football 'Coach of the Year' candidates is a good thing

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Minooka High School

Edgy: Too many IHSA football 'Coach of the Year' candidates is a good thing

The football postseason also brings award season. And picking a winner in each of the various categories is never an easy task. From selecting the Player of the Year to Coach of the Year along with All-Area and All-State teams, fans can (and will) make a case for several quality names that are more than deserving of recognition. 

How does the Coach of the Year candidates look this season? 

It can be a near-impossible task to narrow down to just one name…or even a handful of names. NBC Sports Chicago managing editor Joe Collins and I tried to do just that on Wednesday.

In the not-too-distant past, various newspaper writers and such announced these awards before the end of the state playoffs. Personally, I never understood that on several levels. In my mind, the postseason counts and needs to be taken into consideration for such awards. That said, we always have coaches who do a fantastic job of turning programs around from the previous year. 

Take Joliet West Bill Lech, who led the Tigers to their first conference title in 50 years. He is more than worthy of consideration. The same goes for Erick Middleton at Marian Catholic. He led the Spartans, a team that had not won more than two games in a season since 2011, to a 5-4 regular season and a playoff berth this season. Glenbard North head coach Ryan Wilkens took it on the chin last season in the Panthers’ first season as members of the DuKane Conference. They posted an 0-9 record. All Wilkens did was lead the Panthers to a 7-3 mark in 2019—good for the second-round of the 7A state playoffs. How about Thornwood? Head coach Kenneth Smith guided the T-Birds from a 2-7 team to the state playoffs. The same goes for LaSalle-Peru's Jose Medina or Grant's Chris Robinson, whose teams had terrific turnaround seasons in 2019. 

But somehow, you need to have a metric for separating some of these worthy coaches from the others. For me, that metric is what happens in the playoffs. A deeper postseason run undoubtedly helps to eliminate the logjam for Coach of the Year honors. 

So should head coaches at “power programs” be excluded from Coach of the Year honors? Does having a roster stacked with talent and numbers and depth mean you have done any less of a job in 2019 compared to others? Meaning, the likes of, say, Lincoln-Way East’s Rob Zvonar or H-F’s Craig Buzea shouldn't be under consideration? Do we just expect them to roll the helmets onto the field and expect victories week in and week out? If it was only that easy. 

In Class 8A, we have some fantastic coaches with stories that are still adding chapters. Take Minooka (Who?). I'm willing to bet that more Brother Rice fans have been to Mars than Minooka; however, the Indians are undefeated and looking to advance to the semifinals. They feature a staff filled with Hall of Fame coaches, led by former Downers Grove South Hall of Fame head coach John Belskis. And Hall of Fame coach Terry McCombs, who is a 50-year veteran in the IHSA, is an assistant coach for Belskis. How's that for having a partner who has been there and done that more than a few times?

How about Warren Township head coach Bryan McNulty? The Blue Devils have gone from a second-tier/also-ran football program in the North Suburban conference to a powerhouse in two short seasons. The 2019 squad brings a new meaning to “Fright Fest” in Gurnee these days. 

Another somewhat misguided opinion for some fans is that they feel coaches at private schools shouldn't be considered for any Coach of the Year awards because "they recruit" their roster. So the job that, say, Loyola's John Holecek has done in getting the Ramblers to the level of success they've achieved isn't worthy? Or look at Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch. Is the job he has done this season, leading the undefeated Caravan to a top seed under one of the brightest spotlights week in and week out, not deserving of an award? Nazareth Academy's Tim Racki has propelled the Roadrunners to another deep postseason run. Should we just ignore this? Same goes for Joliet Catholic (Jake Jaworski)  and St. Francis (Bob McMillen)? Or that both Marist and Brother Rice, both of whom came into the postseason with 5-4 records and have since rolled in 8A, don't deserve a mention? Come on. 

What about the Chicago Public League coaches who endured the recent teachers strike. They got their teams ready under the most trying of circumstances. Several of those schools won IHSA playoff games. How can anyone say that Phillips head coach Troy McAllister isn't worthy after leading the Wildcats into the 7A quarterfinals? All they’ve done is compete with a mid 4A-sized enrollment and a dedication to play "up" to 7A just because they want to compete at the highest level possible. How can you not love that in any coach? 

I also include the entire state of Illinois in my Coach of the Year award. Heck, why not make this an even-harder task than it already is? In all seriousness, has anyone been able to get his program to the top and remain at the top more effectively than East St. Louis Darren Sunkett? Has anyone noticed that Glenwood is back and a state-wide power under head coach David Hay? Or that Rochester Derek Leonard just keeps winning games and titles year in and year out and now is locked in to winning the Rockets’ first state title in 5A. Or veteran head coach Dave Bates at Auburn? They just knocked off 2A power Maroa-Forsyth last Saturday and are full steam ahead to the quarterfinals against another power in St. Theresa after going 4-5 in 2018. Pana’s Trevor Higgins has won despite a trying offseason where he lost his four-year-old son in a tragic accident.

I'll make you a deal. Give me another 2-3 weeks and I'll be able to come up with a much clearer picture on the 2019 Coach of the Year award. Until then. let's see how things shake out over these next few remaining weeks of the season and see so many good coaches and stories continue to take shape. 

IHSA moves football, boys soccer and girls volleyball to Spring 2021

IHSA moves football, boys soccer and girls volleyball to Spring 2021

February football will not just be limited to the Super Bowl. It’ll be coming to many Illinois high school football fields in 2021.

The IHSA Board announced Wednesday that the 2020-2021 sports calendar will be significantly altered, with football, boys soccer and girls volleyball moving to the Spring 2021 season, in conjunction with Governor J.B. Pritzker's guidelines on COVID-19 safety protocol.

Boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys and girls cross country and girls swimming and diving will play this fall. The season gets underway Aug. 10.

The winter sports schedule, which begins Nov. 16 and runs to Feb. 13, includes boys and girls basketball, wrestling, boys swimming and diving, competitive cheerleading, competitive dance, boys and girls bowling and girls gymnastics. Contests can begin on Nov. 30.

In spring season, which begins Feb. 15, football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, girls badminton, boys gymnastics and boys and girls water polo. Contests begin Mar. 1

The summer sports season, which starts May 3 and goes to June 26, includes baseball, softball, boys and girls track and field, girls soccer, boys volleyball, boys and girls lacrosse and boys tennis. Contests begin May 17.

“I applaud our Board of Directors for choosing a model that allows every student-athlete the opportunity for a modified season,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “This plan, like nearly every aspect of our current lives, remains fluid. Changes may come, and if they do, we will be agile while putting safety and students first.”

Pritzker announced a series of restrictions on high school sports, travel clubs, park district leagues and other adult recreational sports programs earlier this afternoon.

The guidelines, which go into effect on Aug. 15, will place sports into three risk levels: low, medium and high based on the amount of contact between athletes and their proximity during practices and game competition.

Lower-risk sports include badminton, baseball (if players can be at least six feet apart in dugouts or in bleachers; otherwise considered medium-risk), bass fishing (if room on boat permits social distancing), bowling, cross country (if teams are limited), golf, gymnastics, softball (same rules as baseball), swimming and diving (single lanes/single diving, no relays; otherwise it’s medium-risk), tennis and track and field (if delayed starts, every other lane and cleaning of equipment between usage otherwise medium-rosh).

Medium-risk sports include basketball, flag football/7-on-7 football, soccer, volleyball, water polo and wheelchair basketball.

High-risk sports include competitive cheerleading, competitive dance, football, hockey, lacrosse and wrestling.

In tandem with those guidelines, the measures also dictate four additional levels by which these sports can be played based on current public health statue, with level 1 allowing only no-contact outdoor practices and level 2 allowing intra-team scrimmages (but not competitive play). In level 3, intra-conference and intra-league play is allowed, with the possibility of state championship games for low-risk sports. Level 4 is with the least amount of restrictions, where inter-conference and interstate competition can occur, along with the other state championship games.

Lower risk sports are currently allowed to play in the first three levels, medium-risk sports are allowed to play in the first two levels and the high-risk sports are first-level only.

The 2019-20 IHSA calendar was thrust into uncertainty back on March 12 when the 1A and 2A boys basketball state finals were called off, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was soon followed by the cancellation of the 3A and 4A boys hoops and the rest of the IHSA spring sports calendar.

Max Christie selects Michigan State over Duke, several Big Ten schools

Max Christie selects Michigan State over Duke, several Big Ten schools

Sparty Nation got another reason to flex. And it may have Coach K seeing green.

Max Christie, a five-star shooting guard (Rivals) and the top Illinois player in the Class of 2021, is headed to play for Michigan State and legendary head coach Tom Izzo. The Rolling Meadows High School product made his decision Tuesday in an interview with Fox’s Andy Katz.

“It just felt like it was a place that I was needed and a place I wanted to go to,” Christie said. “I think Coach Izzo and his staff and all my teammates there can push me to be the person I want to be, not just on, but off the court.”

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Christie selected Michigan State —his only official visit— over, namely, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. Also on his list of potential choices were Villanova, Virginia, Purdue, Ohio State, Northwestern, Illinois and several others. While Christie is excited for Izzo to help improve his game, he also prides himself on his versatility and making an immediate impact.

“I think I can be a great facilitator and a great scorer,” Christie said. “I feel like I can do anything that Coach Izzo or the players need be to do if that means rebounding, pushing the ball, setting up an offense or coming off screens, I feel like I am versatile enough of anything that is asked of me.”

The 6-foot-6 Christie may get another boost on the court a few years down the line, as Class of 2022 phenom Emoni Bates, the top player in the current junior class, committed to play for MSU on June 30. All of this assumes Bates keeps his commitment to East Lansing and doesn’t hop the NBA. Christie remains steadfast in his committed to Michigan State and is not exploring any G-League options at the moment.

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Christie has grabbed headlines in Chicagoland since his freshman year. He has tallied a 50-point game and a triple double and had several clutch moments during his junior season. He is coming off the first 20-win campaign at ‘Meadows in nearly 30 years.

And there’s more Christie magic in the pipeline. Cameron, his younger brother, is one of the quickly-rising sophomores in the area.