By Lenny Sementi
Once a Warrior ‘Always A Warrior.’ That rang true this past weekend as both the boys and girls basketball teams returned to play. It’s unknown who started first but Tuscola boys and Flanagan-Cornels were definitely the first two in the state of Illinois to take the court this school year. Warrior Alumni from around the country logged in to stream the games on the NFHS Network as the fan base delivered their support.
History made maybe, but if nothing else it was a welcomed return to high school athletics, which have been on hold due to the pandemic since golf and cross country season ended in October. Hopes of sports in general were non-existent two weeks ago but things changed fast and TCHS athletic director Ryan Hornaday like the roadrunner from the cartoons hit the ground running finding games for both the boys and the girl’s basketball teams immediately.
“We were so excited to be able to get last Friday’s and Saturday’s games. So happy for our kids (and parents). It was pretty neat (and a bit stressful) to have the eyes of the entire state on Warrior basketball and Tuscola HS,” Hornaday said. “Everything moving forward is a work in progress, but I’m proud to report everything this past weekend really went off without a hitch.”
Basketball isn’t the real story here, it’s the people and true Warriors that made this happen from Hornaday and principal Steve Fiscus to Fiscus’s son Kellen, who sanitized chairs for subs and the game ball during timeouts at the boy’s game last Friday evening. The two administrators not only set this all up they also sanitized the bleachers between games. So in honor of it happening we will let some of those involved tell the whole story.
Senior guard Grant Hardwick stated, “I was ecstatic to play in the first game, I think everybody was. I feel like we prepared ourselves well to play the first game in the state.” And then he put it about as well as anyone could. “To be honest it was just a lot of Fun to be back out there with my friends.”
Senior post Marissa Russo, like Hardwick, was just happy to be back. “There were a lot of emotions being back on the floor. I was overwhelmed with excitement being able to finally play with my teammates. It has been such an up and down year with sports and we didn’t know if we would even play this year. It means the world to me to be able to play basketball one last season as a Warrior and I am going to soak it all in and enjoy every minute.”
Were things different, you bet. No jump ball to start the game, masks on all players the entire game, only 25 fans from each school spread out on each side of the gym. It was all just a little weird at times but a good kind of crazy and the people involved stood out. Richard Kidwell was on the call Friday evening as he’s been every year since 1970. You saw that right this is his 50th year as the voice of the Warriors.
Tim Kohlbecker opened his 17th season with a mask on and a smile under as leader of the Lady Warriors on Saturday afternoon. “I have been impressed all school year with how our school has managed to be in person while dealing with COVID,” Kohlbecker commented. “So, when it came time to play, it came as no real surprise that Ryan and Mr. Fiscus would have us first out of the gate. What Ryan has managed in a short time period as far as scheduling and what he and Mr. Fiscus have done with mitigations, is remarkable. I’m very proud of how our girls adhered to the mitigation’s put in place by the state and IHSA. It’s not easy to play in a mask but they never complain!”
Boys coach Justin Bozarth listed all the things that Hornaday and Fiscus accomplished in a short amount of time “This doesn’t happen without proactive leadership of our high school administration. When the IDPH and IHSA released guidelines with a return to play, both Mr. Fiscus and Coach Hornaday were ready. The plan for how our gym would be set up for competitions was already completed. The cameras for streaming games were installed in October. The socially distanced seats in the bleachers were taped off literally within 24 hours of the IHSA announcement. Our schedules will soon be complete. Yet, most importantly, every minor detail and plan that was created has taken into account how we can follow every guideline to continue to try to make sure our players, fans, and school can remain safe and healthy. Our team and players will grab the headlines and be discussed in the newspaper articles over the next six weeks, but none of this is possible without Mr. Fiscus’ and Coach Hornaday’s belief, vision, and preparation.”