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BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois High School Association board of directors on Monday voted to deny a waiver that would have allowed Paxton-Buckley-Loda senior Eddie Nuss to play in the first football game of the season despite not having participated in the mandated 12 days of practice.
Nuss, a two-way PBL starter at fullback and linebacker a year ago, is currently in Army basic training in Fort Benning, Ga., and won’t be back until Aug. 19 — just a week before the season opener at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.
"I’m disappointed in them,” Nuss’ father, Pat, said of the IHSA. “It’s not like he’s on vacation. He’s not running around doing something illegal. He’s doing something good for the country.”
The Nuss family had an attorney draw up a signed waiver releasing the IHSA from any liability, but the board of directors still voted unanimously to deny it on grounds of its “concern for the person’s well-being,” IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said.
“There’s this overriding safety issue,” said Hickman, citing that two kids in the nation have already died following football practices this year. “Our sports medicine committee continues to feel that being in shape and being in football shape are two different things. We’ve had this issue a number of times. It’s been brought to the board’s attention, and they’ve consistently said that they’re not interested in modifying this policy.”
Pat Nuss thought the ruling and reasoning behind it were ridiculous.
“Four days a week, (Eddie) runs five miles with his gear and pack on. That’s an extra 20-30 pounds in 100-plus degrees,” said Pat, an Army veteran himself. “He’ll be in better shape than any kid on the football field when he’s out of basic training.”
Despite the signed waiver, the IHSA still expressed concern over potentially being liable. Hickman said the IHSA’s attorney told the board that Pat Nuss signing off on his son’s rights “would not necessarily fully protect us in the event of an injury.”
“Maybe something more from the person” would protect the IHSA, Hickman said. “But really at the end of the day, it’s a combination of that and concern for safety that led the board to believe our currently policy should be enforced.”
Pat Nuss wasn’t the only person upset by the decision. State Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, helped bring the issue to the IHSA board and was not pleased with the principle behind the ruling.
“I think it’s terrible,” Cultra said. “Here he is serving our country. He’s probably in the best shape of his life.
“What’s it send to our veterans and the people who served our country? Here a kid is doing the right thing, taking his military training over the summer, but he can’t get back in time and they’re going to penalize him? I don’t think it’s right ... I think some allowances need to be made. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The decision is final on the IHSA’s end. Pat Nuss said the only thing he could do is attempt to appeal the decision through an injunction via the court system, but he can’t afford to pay “thousands of dollars.”
For such a policy to change, a by-law amendment proposal would need to be submitted for next year and then voted on by the IHSA membership, Hickman said.
“Certainly our membership could entertain that.,” Hickman said. “But that’s also happened in the past and that really hasn’t gone anywhere, primarily because our sports medicine committee continues to be concerned about the safety of young kids getting into football shape ... We think there’s value to the 12 days of practice.”
For Nuss, not playing will hurt even more because the game is against the rival Falcons, his father said. Or as GCMS head coach Mike Allen mentioned earlier this summer when the issue first came to light, “He’s a Nuss, he lives to play this game.”
But for now, PBL can only do one thing: focus on what’s in its control.
“It is what it is. It’s unfortunate. There’s nothing we can do,” Panthers head coach Jeff Graham said. “I can’t sit here and dwell about it. I just have to prepare Eddie when he gets back, preapre this football team and move forward.”