By MICHAEL BURWELL
There’s still a possibility for high school sports to resume in the 2019-20 school year. But it’s a slim one.
Ohio High School Athletic Association Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass announced Thursday that the winter sports tournaments and the spring sport seasons will remain postponed due to coronavirus concerns, although canceling them “is on the table.”
“While the window of opportunity for our winter tournaments is closing rapidly, we still remain that they are on an indefinite postponement,” Snodgrass said from the OHSAA office in Columbus in his first press conference since the OHSAA postponed all high school sports late last week.
“We do that for a simple reason. While again the window is closing, we also realize that there are so many other factors that people do not realize. Site availability, coaches availability, keeping in mind that our officials, there are people that are in the risk category that we cannot and will not subject to being faced with being infected by this virus.
“So, there are many factors with this. Much of this hinges on future decisions by (Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine) on whether we close schools for a longer period of time. Extending our tournaments into the summer months, extending them even into May, is very problematic on a lot of different fronts.”
State tournaments in girls basketball, wrestling and hockey, as well as regional boys basketball tournaments, were postponed on March 12 due to COVID-19 concerns. Later that day, DeWine asked all of Ohio’s kindergarten through 12th-grade schools to be closed through April 3 due to the virus threat.
On March 13, the OHSAA implemented a no-contact period for all sports, prohibiting any coach to provide coaching, instruction or open gyms to players. The OHSAA also shut down use of facilities for the purpose of athletic activities.
In regard to spring sports, the OHSAA is sticking to its tentative plan of starting practices April 6 and having scrimmages and regular-season games starting April 11. Tournaments for spring sports would remain on currently scheduled dates.
However, that could be altered as well.
“What will change that overnight will be any decision by the governor to extend the closure of schools,” Snodgrass said. “Again, it doesn’t mean at this point with spring sports that we are canceling, but is canceling on the table? It absolutely has to be on the table.
“The government, nor the OHSAA nor school districts, are denying the opportunities for these kids. I want to make that clear. We are not, the government is not, Gov. DeWine is not, other organizations or school districts. By them closing their athletic facilities right now for students, they’re not the ones that are eliminating these opportunities or putting these opportunities on hold. It’s a severe virus that we must, as the governor said, go to war with and defeat.”
The final decision for the remaining winter sports tournaments could be made by Saturday, Snodgrass said.
“We have to (decide soon). I think it’s imperative that we have to and cannot procrastinate,” he said. “I do not want to lead people on, that’s the No. 1 thing I don’t want to do and give them false hope.”
Snodgrass also said that he highly doubts that certain winter tournaments would be finished without the others, and that if students could return to school around mid-May, the basketball, hockey and wrestling tournaments would “probably not” be resumed.
“And I know that upsets many people, but again, there are so many factors. Keep in mind what we differ from in so many other levels of sport; we have many of our kids that play multiple sports,” Snodgrass said. “The impact of that impacts spring sports if they could continue.
“I know that’s not a popular decision, but that’s a decision that I would shoulder that responsibility for.”
Sixteen area wrestlers, including three from Findlay High, were gearing up for the state tournament, which was originally scheduled to take place last weekend in Columbus along with girls basketball and hockey.
Three area boys basketball teams — Upper Sandusky in Division II, Ottawa-Glandorf in Division III and Columbus Grove in Division IV — were still competing in regional tournaments when play was postponed.
Those three schools are among many in the state that bring a large amount of fans to games. The financial impact will affect the OHSAA, according to Snodgrass, who said the amount of revenue lost from possibly not having winter sports tournaments would be around $1.4 to $1.5 million.
Practices for spring sports began in late February and early March. Track and field, baseball and softball started on Feb. 24, while boys tennis only had a week of practice that began on March 9. The no-contact period went into effect on Tuesday.
Spring sports tournaments are still scheduled to take place on originally scheduled dates, with the state tournaments scheduled for late May and early June. The boys tennis state tournament is slated for May 29-30; state softball June 4-6 at Firestone Stadium in Akron; state track and field June 5-6 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus; and state baseball June 11-13 at Canal Park in Akron.
Snodgrass said different factors, including if or when schools would open back up, school testing and whether the Ohio Department of Education requires schools to be open for longer periods of time during the day, could determine whether spring sports tournaments would be pushed back.
“That could have a huge impact on extra-curricular activities, so I’ve kept that window open for spring sports because of the number of what-ifs,” Snodgrass said. “Could we? Yeah, we could probably extend to (middle or late June, so we have a little bit of wiggle room to move that. But again, we’re talking about site availability, too. Our sport administrators are already in consultation with the different site venues that we use.
“We will come back. Athletics will come back, school athletics will come back and now more than ever, we need to be unified from our schools and from our coaches to get them back. It will emphasize the good things in high school sports, and I think that’s something that will rise out of this.”