Holiday tournaments have long been a staple of Illinois high school basketball. They serve as good measuring sticks on where teams stand as the New Year is right around the corner.

However, this year the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc as several Chicago area schools have had to withdraw from tournaments, including the Fenwick High School boys team.

The Friars (1-7) were scheduled to open play with Hammond (Indiana) Central December 27 at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, but dropped out due to Covid-19 protocols.

“I tested positive for COVID as did a couple of the kids,” said Fenwick coach Tony Young. “We’re shut down for a couple of weeks, and we’re trying to get healthy.”

Young said he was disappointed about having to pull Fenwick out of Proviso West, because he looked at the tournament as a way of giving his young team some valuable experience. But he also understands physical well-being of the team takes preference over anything else.

“It’s been an up-and-down season with a lot of learning,” he said. “There’s been a lot of growing and some crazy circumstances, but as long as the boys are healthy — and that’s our number one priority — we’re going to be all right.”

While certainly Fenwick’s record isn’t where he’d like it to be, Young said he had noticed improvement in the Friars’ play before the shutdown.

“We had an opportunity to win our last couple of games,” he said. “The seniors are finally starting to catch on and hit their stride. Being off for a couple of weeks means we’ll be going up against teams who have been playing. But we’ll deal with it and fight through the adversity.”

Fenwick’s next scheduled game is a Catholic League home contest against Providence Catholic on Jan. 5.

OPRF set to tip off at Pontiac Tourney

The Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team is set for its annual trip to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, which tipped off Dec. 28 after Wednesday Journal’s press time and features several of the state’s top programs.

“COVID-19 is making another detour around to some of these schools, and we see them canceling,” said OPRF coach Phil Gary. “It’s very important for us to be able to get out there and play so at least there’s some sense of normalcy.”

The Huskies (4-3) have already experienced some disruption to their season, going a full two weeks without playing a game after the program — along with all other extracurricular activities — was shut down Dec. 4-6 due to an increase in COVID-19 cases at the school. OPRF’s last game was Dec. 18, an 84-59 home loss to Lake Forest.

Having played just two games in three weeks, as well as not having a lot of practice time due to the brief shutdown and final exams, OPRF may show a little rust this week, and that’s concerning to Gary.

“It’s tough to catch rhythm when you’re able to play, and then you’re not,” he said. “It’s tough for the kids, not just at OPRF but a lot of schools in the area.”

The Huskies’ first game at Pontiac was scheduled for Dec. 28 against Warren Township at 2:30 p.m.

“Warren plays hard and tough, and they play together,” Gary said. “It’ll be a nice matchup for us.”

Should OPRF prevail over Warren, there’s a good chance Simeon, a perennial contender for the Chicago Public League and state championships, will be waiting in the quarterfinals. While Gary would like to win Pontiac, he believes it’s important the Huskies get better by playing against top teams.

“Honestly, we just want to go and compete,” he said. “We need to compete and play together, and then we’ll see where we’re at. We want to play the best teams, and this tournament will help us get ready for February and March. It’s a good test.”

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