Ray Liberatore is the elder statesman of area head varsity winter sports coaches, having taken the reins of the Minooka girls basketball program in 1994.
On Tuesday, Liberatore’s Indians had a game with Plainfield Central postponed. A game Monday vs. Joliet Catholic was called off and may or may not be made up. And if it was not there already, this winter became the most disruptive one Liberatore has ever experienced.
“This is the worst winter I can recall in terms of days missed from school,” Liberatore said, “which would equate to missed basketball days, as well.”
At Seneca, where Todd Yegge is in his 17th year as head wrestling coach and his 20th year overall. On days when school is canceled, practices and matches must be, too. The Fighting Irish had gone all season without having competition called off until Tuesday, when their final dual of the season at Dwight was wiped out, but four practices have been canceled and one has been cut short because of weather.
“This is the most trying winter that I can remember in my coaching career,” Yegge said. “We have to just make do with the time we have to prepare and get the athletes ready for the IHSA state series the best we can with the time that is left.”
Coach Joe Blumberg believes his Morris boys basketball team has probably lost four practice sessions in one season, the way it has this winter, at some point during his 12 years in the program. And Morris has had only one game postponed – this past Friday at Rochelle – which will be made up this Friday; one year, the Redskins had lost a game entirely because of inclement weather.
“I think what makes this year different is that we are losing chunks of practice time – Mondays after Sundays, or two days in a row here and there,” Blumberg said. “With the poms sectional at Morris on Saturday, a scheduled day off Sunday and then a Monday off, it’s the three days in a row without any practice that worries me the most.”
Morris players are given off-day homework designed to keep them sharp physically and mentally. Two 20-minute cardio workouts address the first aspect. The second is targeted through watching game film online, taking in a televised basketball game or drawing up the Redskins’ set plays.
“Are they all doing it? I don’t know, and that’s part of the struggle,” Blumberg said. “The last time we weren’t able to practice the day before a game, we sent our guys a PDF of Coal City game film notes and asked them to watch. We seemed prepared, but we were also playing them the third time in six weeks.”
Missed practice can be particularly difficult in wrestling because a day without training can make a difference in an athlete’s ability to make weight.
“Our top kids with state goals will still find a way to get a workout in on their own and they will continue to work toward their goals, and the others will just have to use the practice time we have left to prepare themselves for state level competition,” Yegge said. “It all comes down to how important this is to them at the end of the season.
“Obviously as is human nature, some athletes look at it as an extra day or two off and like it, but our dedicated and committed athletes that are vying for state medals are really disappointed and worried about missing valuable preparation time that they need to be successful at the state level.”
To Liberatore, the time off that the cold and snow have mandated is not without its benefits.
“It’s important as you get to this time of year that the girls are physically and mentally fresh, and with these forced days off, that has taken care of it,” Liberatore said.
It may be wrong to assume that local athletes have passed the ugliest winter days inside their own homes.
“I think our guys enjoy being around each other, and maybe losing a day here and there makes them appreciate the time we do have together a bit more,” Blumberg said. “But they were together somewhere, I guarantee it. Whether going out for a team breakfast, playing video games in someone’s basement or sneaking into a gym, I bet they haven’t been apart for three days.”
Area game schedule changes
Several of the area prep athletic events called off because of inclement weather Monday and Tuesday have been rescheduled.
Morris has rescheduled two of the four girls basketball games it had recently postponed. Its game at Dixon, originally scheduled Jan. 18, is now Feb. 10. Its game at Rochelle, originally scheduled Jan. 24, is now Friday.
The Morris boys basketball team also will play at Rochelle Friday as part of a rescheduled girls-boys doubleheader.
The Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference girls bowling tournament, in which Morris will participate and originally scheduled for Monday, is now Monday, Feb. Girls bowling senior night for Minooka, originally scheduled for Tuesday, is now Thursday against Plainfield North.
Monday and Tuesday games at the Interstate Eight Conference boys basketball tournament, which Coal City is hosting, will now be played Wednesday. On Wednesday, Coal City will face Seneca in the competition gym and Dwight will face Westmont in the auxiliary gym at 5:30 p.m. Herscher will face Reed-Custer in the competition gym and Peotone will face Plano in the auxiliary gym at 7 p.m.
Coal City at Wilmington wrestling, originally scheduled for Wednesday, is now Friday.
Gardner-South Wilmington boys basketball will now host Grant Park Thursday to make up a game from Tuesday; the team also will travel to Kankakee Trinity Monday for an added game and host Beecher Feb. 5 to make up a game from last Friday.