By DAVE HANNEMAN
Tyson McGlaughlin, Jeff Winslow and Chris Sautter were hoping to spend this weekend sitting on a bench at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center.
Through no fault of their own, they’ve been sitting on pins and needles instead.
McGlaughlin, Ottawa-Glandorf’s head coach, and Columbus Grove’s Sautter had already guided their teams to a spot in the boys basketball regional finals. Winslow, head coach at Upper Sandusky, was hoping to join them when the OHSAA announced on March 12 that all winter athletic events — including state tournaments for wrestling, girls basketball and hockey that were to start last weekend — were being postponed due to coronavirus concerns.
When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made an announcement on March 12 asking for all of Ohio’s kindergarten through 12th-grade schools to shut down for three weeks, the OHSAA a day later implemented a no-contact period for all high school athletics, meaning team practices and coach’s contact with players were shelved as well.
“Initially, I think everybody was frustrated, and they were angry because you work so hard for that opportunity and then you see it slowly being taken away,” said McGlaughlin, whose No. 2-ranked Titans were 25-1 after beating Colonel Crawford 66-34 on March 11 in a Division III regional semifinal at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center.
“We played really well against Colonel Crawford. We were fired up in the locker room, and I was going over to the press conference when Jamie (Baringer) of BG told me that Rudy Gobert (a center for the NBA’s Utah Jazz) had just tested positive for the coronavirus.
“At that moment it was almost like I knew we were in big, big, big trouble.
“It took just one athlete to test positive for the whole thing to …. If he doesn’t test positive, the tournament probably gets played, at least through the (boys) regional and probably the girls state tournament.
“I remember telling my coaches on the way home, ‘I think we’re in trouble,’ and, unfortunately, I was right.”
The suspension of play seemingly could not have come at a worse time for O-G. The Titans, a deep and talented senior-laden team whose lone loss was a 65-53 Western Buckeye League setback to a Lima Shawnee team that was 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in Division II, had been overpowering in the postseason, winning their four tournament games by an average of 35.3 points per contest. Their closest margin of victory was a 25-point spread over Wayne Trace (69-44) in a district final.
“I preach all year about peaking at the right time, making sure we make our push in March, and if you look at our last seven, eight games, we’ve played really, really well,” McGlaughlin said.
“We were playing our best basketball, and I think our kids understood the opportunity that was in front of them. We always emphasize that it’s one game at a time, but I think they saw that they might have an opportunity to maybe, hopefully, play on that big stage in front of the state of Ohio.
“I think that’s the part that’s really hitting them in the gut right now. I really feel for our seniors because it’s an honor to be in this program. Unfortunately, a lot of the teams in our program get judged on what they do in March. These kids understand that, but they may not get the opportunity to do that.”
While speculation remains high that schools could be closed the rest of the school year, the OHSAA announced on Monday that executive director Jerry Snodgrass will conduct a press conference at noon today to “provide updates and information on the OHSAA’s winter tournaments that were postponed indefinitely last Thursday, along with updates on spring sports.”
In regard to today’s OHSAA announcement, McGlaughlin can see what could possibly be a doubled-edged point of contention — what he called a “98 percent” issue — supporting arguments by both winter- and spring-sport coaches.
“It depends on who you talk to,” said McGlaughlin, who serves as O-G’s athletic director as well as boys basketball coach.
“If you talk to anybody involved with spring sports, they can say, ‘It’s unfortunate what happened to winter sports, but they got 98 percent of their season in while we haven’t had an opportunity to compete at all.’
“If you talk to people involved with winter sports, they can say, ‘We’ve played 98 percent of the season, but it’s not over. We’ve worked this hard to get to this point, we’re competing at the highest level possible in high school sports, and we only need about one week to get everything finished and find out who’s the champion.’
“You can’t win that argument. Jerry Snodgrass can’t win that argument.
“Governor DeWine has a plan and he’s sticking to it. We don’t know if it will be three weeks, six weeks, whatever. I think Jerry and the OHSAA are doing everything they can to make it happen but, unfortunately, they don’t make the final call. That’s why you might not agree with all that they (the OHSAA) are doing, but they have a plan and they’re following through with it.
“It’s uncharted waters. What’s going to happen is they’re going to have to make a decision that’s not going to be liked by everybody.”
Columbus Grove had been on a roll as well. The Bulldogs, 26-0 and the No. 1-ranked Division IV team in the state, weren’t putting up the margin-of-victory kind of wins O-G was in tournament play. But they were checking off a number of statement wins, including a 50-42 decision over defending state champion Convoy Crestview, a 58-49 win over Putnam County League rival Kalida in the district final, and, in a battle of unbeaten teams ranked 1-2 in the state, a 55-50 thriller over Antwerp in last week’s regional opener.
“As happy as all the players were last Friday when they said they were just postponing (not canceling the tournament), I was like, OK, we’re still in limbo because we don’t know what’s going to happen in three weeks,” Sautter said.
“We’re having one of the best years the school has ever had, we’re playing good, we just beat the No. 2-ranked team in the state … We were playing as well as anyone with a chance to make it to state. Now we can’t do anything. It’s pretty frustrating.”
Sautter was Ada’s head coach when the Bulldogs reached the Division IV state semifinals in 2009. It’s an experience he’d hoped to revisit with this year’s band of Bulldogs as well.
“Obviously from a coaching standpoint you want to get there for the players, the school, the town. You want your kids to have the opportunity to warm up on the Schottenstein floor,” Sautter said. “That would be amazing.”
Upper Sandusky’s tournament run has already had its share of amazing moments, including Cameron McCreary’s last-second layup that lifted the Rams over Mansfield Senior 62-61 in double overtime in a district quarterfinal, and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Brett Montgomery in the Rams’ 60-59 win over Norwalk in a district final.
Last Thursday, the day Upper Sandusky was to face Lima Shawnee in a Division II regional semifinal at BGSU, was the day the OHSAA announced it was postponing all regional and state tournament activity.
“Disappointed. Frustrated. All those emotions,” Winslow said of his reaction to the OHSAA announcement.
“Once the NBA players had it (coronavirus) and they canceled, then the college teams, I don’t see how high school teams could continue to go on. I think they did what they had to do, and you can’t blame anybody for that, but it’s too bad.
“We had a really, really good year. We’ve had a really, really good tournament run. (But) In talking with some of our kids the other day, by not having a chance to compete they feel like they got beat.
“One of our goals every year is we want to get to Columbus. We would like to have had that opportunity.”
While there seems to be a general consensus that the directive of the announcement will not be a favorable one for the remainder of the 2019-20 prep sports year, a sliver of optimism remains.
“Even though nothing official has come out yet, it doesn’t look good. The last couple of days, all the talk has been that they may not even open the schools for the rest of the year,” Winslow said.
“It is what it is. Everyone is in the same boat. But you never know, until they come out and say ‘no,’ you’ve got to have hope.”