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Valparaiso halts boys basketball activities after positive test; School City of Hammond extends suspension
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Prep Sports

Valparaiso halts boys basketball activities after positive test; School City of Hammond extends suspension

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Gallery: Morton at EC Central football (suspension)

Morton lineman Phil Gunn communicates with wide receiver Marcus Hardy during a game against EC Central on Oct. 11, 2019. On Tuesday, the Governors found out that the School City of Hammond has extended its prep sports suspension until at least Aug. 4.

A growing list of Region schools have had their return to prep sports interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, but Valparaiso has taken a different approach than its counterparts.

After being notified Tuesday of a positive COVID-19 test from one of its boys basketball players, Valparaiso announced later that day that it has suspended the program's activities, while all other sports can continue practicing.

Valparaiso is at least the 11th region school at the moment that has stopped prep sports workouts. The others are: Calumet, Clark, EC Central, Gavit, Hammond, Kankakee Valley, Michigan City, Morton, Portage and River Forest.

However, Valparaiso is the only Northwest Indiana school that didn't use a blanket suspension for all of its sports.

"As a result of (the positive COVID-19 test), and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to suspend our basketball conditioning program immediately through Monday, July 27th," the Vikings athletic department wrote in an email. "In order to return to conditioning on the 27th, student-athletes must have a negative COVID-19 test in hand. If a student-athlete chooses not to get a COVID-19 test he may return to practice on August 3rd."

In a separate statement that Valparaiso Community Schools communications coordinator Allison Hadley sent to The Times, the school added that the player who tested positive for COVID-19 is "following guidance from the Porter County Health Department."

Vikings football coach Bill Marshall and boys basketball coach Barak Coolman deferred comment to Valparaiso athletic director Stacy Adams, who did not respond to The Times' request for comment.

While the Vikings football team — which is still in Phase 1 of the Indiana Department of Education's plan to restart prep sports — carries on with its practices, the School City of Hammond is doing the opposite.

Region football programs remain in Phase 1 of prep sports restart plan amid COVID-19 pandemic

Following a school board meeting Tuesday night, it decided to extend its suspension of team gatherings — which began on July 16 — until at least Aug. 4. The School City of Hammond will then have another school board meeting Aug. 4 to determine when practices can resume at Clark, Gavit, Hammond and Morton.

School City of Hammond, EC Central suspend prep sports activities due to COVID-19

Phil Gunn anticipated that the coronavirus pandemic could potentially affect his final year at Morton, so the star lineman planned ahead.

He verbally committed to Ball state in April, two days after the Cardinals offered him his first Division I scholarship, because he wanted to make sure he had an opportunity to continue playing at the next level — with or without a senior season.

Morton star lineman Phil Gunn verbally commits to Ball State

"I liked the school, and it's a great school," Gunn said. "But (COVID-19) was also a big part of my decision."

Now, it appears his quick thinking was worth it.

Governors football coach Mac Mishler attended the School City of Hammond's school board meeting Tuesday and admitted that he was disappointed with the outcome.

As his program awaits another decision on Aug. 4, Mishler said he's been able to draw confidence from his players' experience. The majority of Morton's catalysts are upperclassmen, highlighted by Gunn, and Mishler expects them to be ready whenever they can return to the field.

"To deal with something like this, to deal with a suspension of this magnitude, we're still in OK shape to do that simply because of the leadership of the kids we have," Mishler said. "But is this a hit? Yes. Is this going to affect installs with things like offense, defense and special teams? Absolutely. Assuming we come back (Aug. 5), we only have a couple of weeks before our potential Week 1 game."

The Governors are tentatively scheduled to begin their season Aug. 21 on the road against Portage.

Hammond is also supposed to open its season that night in a road matchup with South Bend Washington. But unlike Morton, which has won three consecutive outright Great Lakes Athletic Conference titles, the Wildcats are not an established program.

In fact, Hammond coach Rob Gardner, who also attended Tuesday's school board meeting, is the only football coach in the School City of Hammond that is entering his first year with a new program.

Mishler was the Governors' offensive coordinator for two seasons before taking over, Clark coach Nathan Miller was the Pioneers' defensive coordinator for two years before being promoted and Gavit coach DJ Silvas is gearing up for his second season at the helm.

Hammond hired Gardner in January after he spent four years on Morton's coaching staff. Since the IDOE's prep sports resumption plan began on July 6, he's only had seven practices with his new squad.

"Coming over here, we've had to implement a whole new offense, a whole new defense and whole new special teams schemes. It becomes tough," Gardner said. "Even getting kids to just trust you is big, and that's one of the things we're going up against right now, just having those kids around us so they can start trusting us and believing that we can make things happen for them."

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday that he will sign an executive order mandating a statewide face mask requirement, which is slated to begin Monday. All Hoosiers age 8 and older will have to wear one in public places where 6 feet of social distancing isn't possible.

Gov. Holcomb imposes statewide face mask requirement, begins Monday

In hopes of having a 2020 football season, Gunn fully supports Holcomb's decision amid rising COVID-19 cases around the state.

"Wear a mask," Gunn said. "So I can wear my jersey."

Gallery: 4A boys basketball sectional semifinal: Valparaiso vs. Portage

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Lake County Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.

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