Pontiac is canceled and a glimpse at what basketball could look like during COVID-19

Pontiac is canceled and a glimpse at what basketball could look like during COVID-19

Curie celebrates just before receiving the championship trophy at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament last season. | Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The Pontiac Holiday Tournament is canceled for the first time since it took a six-year break during World War II from 1942 to 1947. 

Jim Drengwitz, the Pontiac Holiday Tournament director, called Friday with another stark reminder of the unique times we are living in.

Drengwitz has canceled this year’s tournament. It’s the first time that has happened since a six-year break during World War II from 1942 to 1947.

“I never imagined I’d be the guy canceling it again,” Drengwitz said. “But that’s just where we are. At the end of the day, we weren’t going to be able to put on the tournament we wanted. There are just too many things I couldn’t control.”

The tournament began in 1926 and was the first high school basketball holiday tournament in the state and likely the country.

What does the future hold?

It’s clear there won’t be any traditional holiday tournaments, but what will basketball look like this winter? Well, for it to happen at all the Illinois Department of Public Health will have to allow medium risk sports to be played at its Level 3. Currently, the state is at Level 2. That only allows intra-team scrimmages and no competitive play.

The IDPH has not said how the state moves to Level 3. The Illinois High School Association is hoping for guidance on that later this month. Basketball practices start on Nov. 16. Those would be allowed under current IDPH guidelines, but the state would have to move to Level 3 for games to be played on Nov. 30.

Teams have been scrambling to put together schedules based on the Level 3 guidelines, which allow “Intra-conference or Intra-EMS-region or intra-league play.”

Coaches and AD’s are assuming that means a team can play conference games and any school within its COVID-19 region. The state is broken down into 11 regions. Chicago is its own region and suburban Cook County is a separate region. Then several counties are grouped together, for example, Will and Kankakee make up region seven and Kane and DuPage are region eight. So teams from Will could play teams from Kankakee but not teams from DuPage.

That puts suburban Cook County teams in an enviable spot. Evanston, for example, could theoretically play teams from many of the south suburbs.

“Technically it looks like we could still play Hillcrest,” Evanston AD Chris Livatino said. “Our region does look the best. It’s interesting because there are different pockets in the north, west and south. We could maybe do some fun things with that.”

If games do happen, they are likely to be with no crowd or a smattering of fewer than 50 people. And masks will most likely be required for the players. That’s something that has already been mandated during the contact days the past month, so the kids are used to them.

“The kids have been in masks all summer long,” Livatino said. “There has been no problem at all. We aren’t allowed in our building so all of our basketball contact days have been at Mason Park and the players have masks on all the time.”

Every school district will likely have a slightly different approach. Oak Park is only going to allow conference games, so the Huskies may not be able to benefit from being in the suburban Cook region.

It’s also possible that some districts won’t allow basketball at all, no matter what the IDPH or IHSA says. Chicago Public Schools didn’t allow basketball teams to hold contact days this fall so it’s difficult to see that changing in a month.

There are rumors that high-level Public League basketball teams are looking at creative ways around the current guidelines. The players are already holding weekly games across the state line in Hammond.

The bottom line is that even if basketball is allowed this winter, it will look like nothing we’ve seen before.

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