Like most high school athletes, IMSA senior Faris Shaikh has to strike a balance between his work in the classroom and on the basketball court. (Rick Armstrong/Beacon-News)
A tip of our bright red Santa hat goes out this Christmas week to IMSA basketball coach Brad Snead.For the third straight year, he is getting into the holiday season. Snead’s spirit is akin to that of the downtrodden but hardworking Bob Cratchit character in the Charles Dickens novel “A Christmas Carol.”The odds may be stacked against them, but their glass is always half full.Once again, Snead will open his home to his players for four days during their holiday/semester break so they can remain in the area and participate in a holiday tournament. “We’ll have 11 kids coming in, some Christmas night, some the day after,” Snead said. “There are going to be blow-up beds everywhere and my wife will probably go stay at her mother’s.”The Titans open at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against the hosts at DeKalb’s Chuck Dayton Holiday Classic.In addition to their tourney games, the players will fit in a movie and a laser tag outing along with cookouts and a pizza party.
Brad Snead photo
IMSA coach Brad Snead, front row right, and members of the Titan basketball team prepare for a game of laser tag during the holiday break in December 2018.
IMSA coach Brad Snead, front row right, and members of the Titan basketball team prepare for a game of laser tag during the holiday break in December 2018. (Brad Snead photo)
Snead’s situation at IMSA is unique. Physical education and athletics are valued at the school with an advanced residential academic program that has drawn top science and math students from across the state for 32 years.The student body is clearly competitive, but sports are not as prioritized as they seem to be at some schools.Snead and his players don’t have a summer program. Before he started playing holiday host, his players usually had nearly a full month away from the game in the middle of their season.And, as a non-boundaried school, IMSA is subject to the Illinois High School Association’s multiplier rule. It competes in Class 3A in the postseason but against mostly Class 1A teams in the Northeastern Athletic Conference in the regular season. It’s a program without a postseason win.That doesn’t surprise senior Faris Shaikh. A 6-foot-3 forward from Springfield, Shaikh is a third-year starter. He leads the Titans (4-6) with a 16.5 scoring average.“I definitely didn’t expect much (from basketball), knowing that it’s a math and science school,” Shaikh said. “The first open gym I attended was a bit better than I expected, but it was definitely weaker than where I come from.”Snead this season added the Aurora Christian tourney, where his team lost to Joliet Catholic in overtime, to the schedule.“We’re hanging with some teams that used to beat us by 20,” Shaikh said.IMSA went 1-3 each of the past two years at Plano’s tourney against 1A to 3A competition. DeKalb is a 3A-4A field.“The nice thing is, you just have to teach the game,” Snead said. “It’s not about winning. They’re great kids and like a family off the court.“Academics have a priority here. I know a lot of places say it, but they’re really high where we’re at.”IMSA has 13 IHSA Scholastic Bowl state titles and six top-four finishes to prove it.Shaikh believes the basketball program is improving.“I found out players here took basketball seriously,” he said. “Even though we might not be as good as other teams, we definitely have the same work-hard mentality.“Opponents definitely don’t always perceive us well, but we’re running with teams we didn’t before. After games I’ve heard, ‘Wow, we didn’t expect this from you, keep it up.’Getting a regional win?“It would be great,” Shaikh said. “We could do it this year.”Wouldn’t that be a nice present?So would dropping the Titans down to Class 2A.Wonder what the IHSA would say to that?Probably, “Bah, humbug.”firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter @RickArmstrong28