Photo by Jeff Vorva
Queen of Peace coach George Shimko watches his team beat King Thursday night for the Class 3A regional title from a stage area in the gym. Shimko was suspended for the postseason for not having enough players at a JV game in January.
Figuratively speaking, Queen of Peace girls basketball coach George Shimko is in the Cook County lockup for getting a parking ticket.
The Illinois High School Association bounced him out of the Class 3A postseason tournament for a rules violation that has some scratching their heads.
The Pride, a team with nine players and no seniors on the varsity roster, played a junior varsity game against Guerin at Concordia University on Jan 17. The IHSA said that you need at least 10 players suited up for a JV game or it counts on your varsity record.
So it counted on the Pride’s varsity record and the team went one game over the limit and Shimko, who is also the school’s athletic director, was suspended from coaching in the postseason.
Shimko appealed to the IHSA officials and said it was a mistake and he didn’t know the rule.
That didn’t matter.
The coach pleaded that they were not cheating or trying to gain any competitive edge for seeding because they didn’t count the game in their record.
That didn’t matter either.
When Shimko did find an IHSA rule that would allow the waving of a punishment due to an error?
“They told me they were being lenient with me,” Shimko said. “They said the whole team could have been removed from the postseason.’’
Geez. That would have been really harsh.
This suspension is harsh, too.
If a coach is going to get a postseason ban, make it for something good, like illegally bringing in a 7-footer from another country or bringing in some 30-point-a-game stud and doctoring up her grades. Something a little more juicy than playing a JV game with nine athletes.
And think of this—if the seeds hold true, the Pride will play four postseason games. Putting it in a bigger picture, that’s two more games that NFL player Ray Rice was originally sentenced to for assaulting his girlfriend.
To me, a one-game suspension or even a warning would have been fair for Shimko. But the IHSA saw it differently and Shimko was banned from coaching last week’s regional victories over Perspectives-Calumet and King. He was allowed to be in the gym and, to the IHSA’s credit, he was allowed to take photos with his team after winning the regional title Thursday night and help cut down the nets. So there was some joy to be had for the third-year coach.
Losing a coach can be a jolt for some teams but the Pride was able to prosper. The keys have been handed over to assistant coach Mike Landstrom, a 25-year-old with a unique basketball background.
The 6-foot-8 Oak Lawn native said he played just one season – his senior year – at Marist High School and tried to walk on at St. Xavier University. He earned some scholarship money for hoops his sophomore and junior seasons. He started coaching youth teams when he was in high school and now has been thrust into the pressure cooker of postseason basketball with a team that earned the No. 2 team in the De La Salle Sectional.
“Honestly, I’m looking at this like it’s a great opportunity,” Landstrom said. “Our whole (assistant) coaching staff is rather young. It’s an opportunity for us to step up our game.
“We had the foundation set from the beginning. Now it’s just a matter of keeping it going. It’s been a little more challenging, but I like it. It’s a good time.’’
Landstrom admits that being the man all the players’ eyes are on during a game was something he had to get used to.
“The first game, I was not used to it and when we were coming into the timeouts, I kept looking at (fellow assistant coach Alex Shimko) and he looked at me and we were like ‘who is supposed to bring in the huddle?’ ’’ Landstrom said.
So the Pride moved on to the sectional semifinals with their coach watching near the stage area of his gym instead of his customary spot on the bench. This week is going to be a little tougher with a potential battle with Bogan looming Thursday in the sectional final.
Shimko will be somewhere in the De La Salle gym cheering his team on.
And while he does not relish the idea of being away from his team during games, he probably wouldn’t mind being stuck in the stands and watching Landstrom coach March 4 and 5 at the state tournament in Normal.