By Josh Brown
Miami Valley Today
Winter sports’ postseason tournaments are all on hold indefinitely.
That was the official word from the Ohio High School Athletic Association early Thursday afternoon, as the upcoming OHSAA state wrestling tournament, state girls basketball tournament, regional and state boys basketball tournaments and ice hockey state tournament were all postponed indefinitely in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass announced in a press conference.
The impromptu press conference happened shortly before Carroll and Beloit West Branch were to take the floor for their 1 p.m. state semifinal girls basketball game at St. John Arena, the first of four games scheduled to be played Thursday night.
“This is certainly one of the toughest days, not only in my career but in our staff’s career, knowing that every single day our staff works for these opportunities for our kids, we stress the opportunities of a lifetime. But our decision today has been to postpone indefinitely our regional boys basketball tournament, our state girls basketball tournament, our state ice hockey tournament and our state wrestling tournament,” Snodgrass said. “And this decision, though it may appear at the last minute, is based on so many developing situations that occurred really in the last eight hours. As much as we want this opportunity for our kids and our schools and our communities, we have to look at the safety aspects that these mass gatherings create.
“We will use this time to work with the appropriate state authorities and health experts to determine our next steps moving forward. We realize this is disappointing for our participants and their fans, but the overall health and safety of everyone involved in our tournaments is our priority.”
The disappointment was immediate.
“It’s a sad day. A sad day,” Troy Christian wrestling coach Steve Goudy said. The Eagles had eight state qualifiers and had a goal to win the state team championship. “When you think of the ramifications of this, there’s so many things at play. For the seniors, it’s one last shot. That pops right into mind. But also you have a whole class of freshman that won’t ever have the opportunity to be four-time qualifiers. Then the sophomores, and juniors, and on down the line it goes. It just sickens me. I’m at a loss for words right now.
“I’m on my way to the wrestling room right now to address the team, because I want to be there when the kids get out of school. For us coaches, myself included, we have to show leadership like never before. I’m going to try to put some perspective on it, as much as I can. Because a lot of kids’ hopes and dreams just got extinguished.”
Troy coach Doug Curnes was taking a wrestler to the state tournament for the first time for the Trojans since 2014. Thursday, he had to give senior Carlos Quintero the bad news.
“I just got off the phone with him — I called him out of class and told him,” Curnes said. “He was initially shocked and angry … but he gets it. I told him to get a lift in today and we’ll take it day by day, watch his weight and listen for updates.”
“I understand why (the OHSAA) is doing it, but I’m not 100 percent convinced it’s not an overreaction,” Miami East coach Mark Rose said. The Vikings had three state qualifiers this weekend. “But I honestly hope it is. I hope we look back six months from now and talk about how stupid this was. Because if it’s not an overreaction, then there’s a lot bigger things happening here than just a wrestling tournament.
“I feel bad for everyone, but I feel really bad for the seniors. For some of them, it might have been their first and only chance to go.”
“I feel bad for all the athletes, especially the seniors,” Milton-Union coach Scott Paulus said. Bulldog senior Peyton Brown had qualified for the weekend’s tournament for the first time in his career. “Peyton finally got there, and he doesn’t get to compete. But it is what it is.”
But without a time frame for when the tournaments might resume — if they even do — there’s still a lot of questions.
“There’s just too many variables,” Paulus said. “Do we keep working out for the next three weeks and maintain weight just in case they do end up having it? We’ve just got to wait and see what happens, and maybe they’ll come up with some solution. Otherwise, that’s a whole year’s worth of work down the drain.”
“There’s no knowledge of how long this will be for. So we’ve got to err on the side of it just not happening,” Curnes said. “And if it gets cancelled, well, we’ll get together, throw Carlos a party and then put an asterisk by his name on the wall in the wrestling room. He’s part of history, one way or the other.”
“I talked to the kids today and didn’t have a lot of positive things to say — but I told them they could eat,” Rose said. “Being postponed indefinitely, we have no idea what that means other than it’s probably not going to happen. I could be wrong — and I hope I am. But closing down for three weeks at least, then if they decide to have it, the baseball and track coaches won’t like having their wrestlers take off for the tournament. The wrestlers will have to get down to weight going into the tournament, so they’d have to give us at least three weeks to get back into wrestling shape. It’s just a nightmare for everyone involved, and I’m glad I don’t have to be the one to make these decisions.”
“I wish they would have been more clear,” Goudy said. “We’re likely going to go ahead as if it’s been cancelled. This is just going to leave it open to speculation. I don’t want to shut these kids down but give them false hope, only to have to shut them down again.
“I don’t know if a lot of people understand the sense of loss. When you put so much into something, a lot of hours and sweat and travel just to get to tomorrow (the state tournament would have started Friday), and then just like that. It still doesn’t seem real to me. It’s like a bad dream.”
Covington coach Eric Vanderhorst was nervous all day Thursday before the announcement. His son, Cael along with Kellan Anderson had qualified for the tournament.
“I was worried after they made the decision this week to limit fans that something else might happen,” Vanderhorst said. “I was anxious all week just wishing the tournament would hurry up and get here. I was leaving for work to head for practice and got a couple texts asking did they really just cancel the state tournament.”
While it is difficult with wrestlers trying to maintain weight, Vanderhorst is hoping the tournament can be held.
“That’s what I told the kids, to hang in there and maybe we can hold the tournament (in April),” Vanderhorst said. “If that happens, I am sure there would have to be some kind of weight allowance. We practice tonight, but with schools being shut down for three weeks, I am sure we won’t be able to practice.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the OHSAA announced that the tournament would go on but with limited spectators in attendance. Tuesday night’s boys regional games were played without limitations, but Wednesday’s regional boys games were played in mostly-empty arenas. That announcement followed the first confirmed coronavirus cases in Ohio on Monday, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s recommendation that indoor sporting events at every level be limited. The OHSAA voided all tickets sold to that point and promised refunds — and the OHSAA will now send further updates regarding ticket refunds after Thursday’s cancellations.
The move was one more domino in a long line of sports cancellations, one that reaches all the way to the top. Every major professional league in the country had suspended play as of Thursday afternoon, beginning with the NBA’s announcement late Wednesday night. The NHL soon followed suit on Thursday, along with MLB suspending spring training and moving back opening day by at least two weeks, as well as MLS suspending its season for 30 days.
The NCAA also announced the cancellation of the upcoming NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, following announcements earlier in the day that the ACC, Big-12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big East and several other conferences had cancelled their men’s conference tournaments. In addition, the Ohio State football team cancelled its April 11 spring game, as did Michigan and Notre Dame.
The Miami Valley Today’s Rob Kiser contributed to this story.
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