LEWISTOWN, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — Greg Bennett can really relate to high school seniors in Illinois right now.
“I’m losing my senior year too,” said the retiring Lewistown girls basketball coach. “Right now who knows what’s going to happen. It’s my senior year too. I’m bummed out about the whole aspect but I’m more bummed out about the kids.”
This is supposed to Bennett’s 35th and final year of coaching. He’s spent the last 31 years at Lewistown High School, mainly juggling coaching responsibilities with the football and girls basketball teams.
He’s been the football defensive coordinator since he came to the small Fulton County school and the girls basketball head coach for 19 years. His resume also includes coaching boys basketball, track and field and wrestling.
Bennett, who is also the school’s athletics director, took the girls basketball teams to state the past two seasons.
This should be the busiest time of his year. In 2010, the Indians football team advanced to the state semifinals meaning his football duties didn’t end until the after the girls basketball team had played five games to open the season.
“This is one of those weeks where, if things go right, I’ve got a football practice after school and basketball practice after football practice,” Bennett said.
But this year there are no games on his November schedule yet.
“Sports has been a huge part of my life and meant a lot to me,” Bennett said. “I never saw this as the way things would end up.”
The Illinois Department of Public elevated youth basketball to a “high risk sport” status late last month. That designation doesn’t allow for games, scrimmages or even contact practices and Governor JB Pritzker has recommended basketball be pushed to the spring.
But the Illinois High School Association approved its winter basketball schedule the day after the IDPH announcement and is allowing individual school districts to decided if their schools should play now.
The Lewistown school board is expected to make a decision Tuesday on the fate of the school’s basketball season Tuesday. Practice for IHSA basketball is scheduled to start next Monday, Nov. 16.
As an athletics director and a coach of two sports, Bennett understands how important sports can be for a high school. And he says the lack of sports this year has been very difficult for small town like his.
“Sports is such a huge part of small communities. Everybody lives and dies with football games, basketball games, baseball, softball, volleyball, whatever,” Bennett said. “It’s taken a big chunk out of the entertainment value of Lewistown, Illinois.”
And it’s taking a big chunk out of the heart of a man hoping for one last opportunity to coach.