An Illinois high school football player will not be allowed to play in his team's season-opener because he will miss too many practices while attending basic training for the U.S. Army National Guard.
The Illinois High School Association denied Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School senior Eddie Nuss a waiver to play in his team's opener on Aug. 26 due to concerns over his safety because he will not be able to attend the mandated 12 preseason practices. Nuss has been in military training in Fort Benning, Ga., since June and is expected to return home on Aug. 18.
"There's this overriding safety issue," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman told the Paxton Record. "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."
Hickman did not return messages on Friday.
Nuss has not heard of the IHSA's rule because his family hasn't spoken with him in two weeks. His father Pat Nuss had been in communication with the IHSA over recent weeks and was upset by its decision.
"What he's doing for his country, he shouldn't be penalized for it," Pat Nuss said. "You're penalizing the kid for doing something fantastic. It's not like he's at church camp or on vacation. He's doing something for the military. There should be some kind of exemption.
"It's mind-boggling to me. It's ashame. It's a slap in the face for anyone who has served in the military."
Illinois State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) has been also been involved in Nuss' fight. Cultra had spoken to Hickman before the IHSA's recent ruling and was hopeful Nuss would be given the waiver. He was disappointed to find out otherwise.
"I think we're at war on two fronts," Cultra said. "When you hear about a helicopter crash and losing so many men in one incident, then you have a high school man who wants to do his part, I think we're penalizing him. I think we have to make allowances."
Cultra talked with Hickman following the ruling, and Cultra was told the IHSA's attorney still believed the association could be sued if Nuss was injured even though the family had agreed to sign a waiver of liability.
"Liability is a still factor," Cultra said. "That's what their lawyers are telling them. They're probably right. It just doesn't seem like someone who has served their country in the time of war should slip through the crack."
Pat Nuss especially didn't agree with the IHSA's concern over Nuss' safety and whether he would be in football shape. He believed his son will be in the best shape of his life after basic training.
"He's running five miles a day with a helmet on and 25 pounds of gear on," Pat said. "It's 101 degrees there at five in the morning. How can you believe he will be in better shape if he had gone to high school football practice for 12 days rather than eight weeks in the military's basic training? I know for a fact there's no comparison."
Pat Nuss, an Army veteran, said his son signed up for the National Guard because he had family who had served in the military. Nuss' older sister is in the U.S. Army and is stationed in Fort Collins, Colo. Nuss will re-join the National Guard after his senior year of high school.
Nuss is entering his third year of high school varsity football. He is a returning starter at running back and linebacker.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda opens its season against rival Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley on Aug. 26.
"He's going to very disappointed," Pat Nuss said. "He lives for this game. It has been Gibson vs. Paxton for 110 years. It's just been a rivalry for so many years. His heart is going to be broken if he can't play that first game."
Cultra said he was going to propose legislation that would prevent the same scenario to play out again.
"Eddie's going to lose out, but this will be for everyone else," Cultra said. "I think there should be exceptions. This would only deal with kids in the military. The law I would propose would be for those who don't have enough practices, their coaches and athletic directors could make a recommendation to the school board, and they would have the right to waive up to the 12 practices."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.