Wheaton Warrenville South cancels annual 7 on 7
The Galloping Ghost isn't being ghosted.
It's just that with football being so fragile in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the high school season just seven weeks away from its scheduled start to the season, Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch sees no way his program can host its annual and highly regarded 7-on-7 tournament.
This summer would have been the eighth year of the Red Grange Classic, which usually takes place in late June.
"The Red Grange is awesome," said Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak, whose Red Raiders have participated in the tournament every summer since he came to Huntley nine years ago. Zimolzak is set to begin his fifth season as head coach. "Ron does a great job there running the whole thing. He's got a great staff. It's just a great tournament."
Muhitch considers his tournament one of the top 7 on 7's in the state, but with the IHSA's Phase 4 Return to Play plan being amended last week to not allow contact in any sports, the clock is ticking. Some schools, including Wheaton Warrenville South, started the past week still waiting for their superintendent to give the go-ahead to get together with their teams.
"We're not going to host the Red Grange, for several reasons," Muhitch said. "The liability lies with the organizer, and the liability lies with the school that hosts it. In today's world, heck, I'm still waiting to see if we can even do a summer camp. I'm not going to organize an event that has high liability and risk for kids."
Muhitch isn't alone in 2020. Even though there is no tackling in 7 on 7, private competitions and those hosted by Illinois universities have not happened in the state since the pandemic started, and likely won't.
"(The Red Grange Classic) has served Illinois well and it does things for coaches to help get ahead with your passing game and your pass defense, and teach it," Muhitch said. "It's a teaching format. And the kids love it. The fun part of summer camp is the competitions on weekends."
Warren incoming junior defensive back/wide receiver Benji Wilson has participated in Midwest BOOM Football 7-on-7 events in Dallas and Orlando this summer. Players wore a soft helmet and mouthpiece (no pads).
"It was a good experience," Wilson said, "especially with not having that much football going on right now."
Wilson says players in Orlando in late June signed a waiver the day before the tournament, then had their temperature taken and had to wear a face covering to get into the outdoor sports complex. He made the trip with his parents, Anthony and Jonita.
"We were definitely concerned (about the coronavirus)," Wilson said. "Down in Florida, in public, people weren't wearing masks. But my family made sure we wore masks pretty much everywhere we went."
While Wilson and his Blue Devils teammates started summer camp on July 6, Zimolzak's Huntley squad began on July 8. The Red Raiders were also scheduled to participate in a 7 on 7 at Sacred Heart-Griffin, but that event is also off. Huntley runs a spread offense so 7 on 7's provide great experiences for his players.
Zimolzak, a former Mid-Suburban League assistant coach who teaches AP Physics/Calculus at Fremd and coached there under Mike Donatucci, has had his teams use contact days to get together with schools such as Hersey and Hoffman Estates in past summers, as well.
Under the new constraints of the IHSA's Phase 4 plan, that's no longer possible either, as competitions against other schools are also on hold. Zimolzak, who teaches AP Physics/Calculus at Fremd and coached there under Mike Donatucci.
With June gone and August approaching rapidly, all teams are in cram mode. In-state 7 on 7's will have to be put on hold this year.
"We haven't even talked about stance and start yet," Muhitch said. "We got a lot of wood to chop before we go testing kids in a competition."
Wilson, for one, holds out hope that there will be actual high school games this fall.
"None of my (7-on-7) teammates got COVID," Wilson said. "I feel like there are ways we could have a season this year."