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Illinois's basketball uniform police step off the beat

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3925905340_753a0e916cThe Illinois High School Association’s basketball fashion police, led by assistant executive director Kurt Gibson (not pictured at right), is suddenly backing off after an early-season crackdown on wide stripes, long shorts and other sartorial crimes.

The question is not why the IHSA is taking a break from measuring inseams, but why did it bother to be so hard-assed about it? The answer comes from the end of last season.

In the Class 3A semifinal game between Champaign Centennial and Chicago North Lawndale College Prep, Gibson, saying he had warned North Lawndale for two years, decided enough was enough, and ordered the referees to assess a pregame technical foul because North Lawndale’s top had an under-armpit stripe that was too wide. Champaign Centennial hit the free throw, and went on to win by — I think you can see where we’re going here — one point. (And then Champaign Centennial won the title game over Oswego, which had redone its uniforms earlier in the season because they were illegal.)

Gibson’s crackdown was controversial, mainly because of when it was enforced. North Lawndale coach Lewis Thorpe said no one had ever warned him about the uniforms. Plus, because of the pregame technical, he was forced to sit the whole game — and the third-place game, which North Lawndale won despite again being down 1-0 before the game started.

In response, the IHSA decided to get even a bigger stick up its butt about the uniform rules. All over Illinois, teams were watching pregame technical foul free throws and seeing their coaches chained to the bench because they (and their vendors) violated the uniform rules, which actually come from the National Federation of High Schools, which has rules to protect what it calls the “sanctity of the number.” Not that NFHS is a strange, numeral-worshiping cult, but that the referees can easily see and signal a number.

The Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ill., noted how intense the scrutiny was coming from the IHSA and its crews of Tim Gunns.

The rule was vigorously enforced during the recent State Farm Holiday Classic where the Normal West, University High, Chicago Hope and Champaign St. Thomas More girls teams were ruled to have illegal uniforms.

A technical foul was assessed against the coaches, who then could not stand the rest of the game. Their foes shot two free throws and got the first possession.

“We had never had uniforms questioned before that I can remember,” said U High athletic director Wendy Smith, who later took the “illegal” uniform to the IHSA office in Bloomington, where it was ruled to actually be legal.

Oops.

So, with athletic directors and coaches all over the state wondering if they were going to have to play shirts-and-skins because of uniforms that may or may not be illegal, the IHSA decided to call off Jean Valjean. Especially with schools not exactly having money to throw around for new uniforms. From the Pantagraph:

The IHSA responded [Jan. 13] to a growing outcry from athletic directors and coaches concerned about a financial hit of nearly $4,500 to replace uniforms or have their teams penalized a technical foul to start the game.

“We have no intention of requiring schools to expend additional dollars now, or in the future, to replace illegal uniforms,” IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said. “We fully realize there are many more pressing financial needs in our schools than basketball uniforms.”

Schools with illegal uniforms … need only apply for a waiver, and they can use their uniforms for the rest of the season, including the state series, without penalty, the IHSA said.

They can also continue to use the uniforms by receiving a waiver on an annual basis until the normal replacement time for their uniforms.

Schools with illegal uniforms that fail to apply for a waiver will continue to have a technical foul given to their coach prior to the start of the game.

Well, that’s nice to hear. However, the schools might need to spend a few bucks on a tailor, just to be on the safe side.

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