By MICHAEL BURWELL
The expected and feared for winter tournaments became official on Thursday.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced the remaining winter sports tournaments for the 2019-20 season have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For the first time since the World War II era, the OHSAA had to cancel events.
“We are just devastated that the tournaments cannot be completed,” OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass said in a release. “But our priority is the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, communities and officials.
“Governor Mike DeWine is asking all Ohioans to do everything they can to stop the spread of this virus. That request, along with our schools not being able to reopen for weeks, means that school sports cannot happen at this time. Even if our schools reopen this spring, it will be difficult to find facilities willing to host the tournaments. Most campuses are shut down until mid to late summer.
“We are already planning for ways that these student-athletes will be honored at next year’s state tournament.”
The OHSAA also announced that the start of the 2020 spring sports season will remain postponed. A tentative plan of starting practices April 6 and having scrimmages and regular-season games starting April 11 was put in place by the OHSAA on March 13, a day after the winter sports tournaments were initially postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.
A no-contact period, which prohibits any coach from providing coaching, instruction or open gyms to players, is still in effect. The OHSAA also shut down use of facilities for the purpose of athletic activities.
State tournaments in girls basketball, wrestling and hockey, as well as regional and state boys basketball, won’t be completed.
“I think there was some fear that everything was going to be canceled right away, but (the OHSAA) waited a little while, and I think they did a good job of just kind of seeing how it was all going to shake out,” Liberty-Benton co-athletic director Nate Irwin said. “Their decision that we heard (Thursday) was, I think, what people had been expecting for the past three or four days, and that’s unfortunate for those teams that were still alive in the tournaments, basketball and wrestling.
“We had a wrestler out of Liberty-Benton (Nathaniel DiRe) that was still in the tournament, so they’re not getting the ending they probably wanted with their seasons, but there’s really nothing we can do about it. Can’t fault the OHSAA, they had to make a tough decision, but it’s ultimately the right decision for everything else that’s going on right now.”
According to the release from the OHSAA, the four 2020 winter state tournaments and a few events during World War II were the only sports cancellations in the history of the OHSAA, which was founded in 1907. However, boys basketball and wrestling were not canceled during those years, and the girls basketball and hockey state tournaments didn’t begin until 1976 and 1978, respectively.
The OHSAA also announced in the release that no state champions will be listed for the four sports in 2020, adding it does not use state polls from the media or coaches associations to determine state champions.
The girls basketball, wrestling and hockey state tournaments were scheduled to take place from March 12-15. Regional boys basketball tournaments were also taking place, with the state tournament originally scheduled for last weekend.
Three area boys basketball teams and 16 area wrestlers didn’t get a chance to complete their seasons.
Upper Sandusky in Division II, Ottawa-Glandorf in Division III and Columbus Grove in Division IV were still competing in the regional boys basketball tournament.
Columbus Grove, which finished No. 1 in the final D-IV Associated Press poll, was in the midst of arguably its best season in school history. The Bulldogs went 26-0 in setting a school record for wins in a season (the previous record was 23 in 1953), and it was just the sixth time they surpassed 20 wins in a season. Columbus Grove was set to face Parkway in a regional final for a chance to reach its second state tournament in school history (2006).
Ottawa-Glandorf also reached a regional final and was set to face Evergreen for a trip to state. O-G finished the season with a 25-1 record and was competing in its eighth regional tournament in the past 10 years (19th overall).
Upper Sandusky (24-1), which had a wild tournament run that included a pair of last-second wins, reached the regional tournament for just the third time in school history and first since 2007. The Rams were set to face No. 1 and unbeaten Lima Shawnee in a regional semifinal on March 12. Shawnee (25-0), along with Columbus Grove, were the only two remaining unbeaten boys basketball teams in Ohio.
Of the 16 area state qualifying wrestlers, eight were seniors. Findlay High senior Jonah Smith (145 pounds, 36-8 record this season) earned his second trip to the state tournament, while Findlay senior Jake Noon (220, 33-10) was a first-time state qualifier.
“We certainly understand and respect the difficult decision by the OHSAA,” Findlay High athletic director Nate Weihrauch said. “This is an emotional time for us all, especially Jake, Jonah, (Findlay freshman state qualifier) Hudson (Goebel), their families, coach (Ben) Kirian and his staff. We all enjoy competing and we are proud of their efforts, character and discipline.”
Other area senior state qualifying wrestlers included Patrick Henry’s T.J. Rhamy (160, 26-8) and Wil Morrow (220, 22-3); Van Buren’s Cade Whitticar (170, 37-11) and Kaleb Snodgrass (285, 45-4); Carey’s Tanner May (182, 38-2); and Elmwood’s Will Bechstein (220, 42-7).
Goebel (106, 40-9); Upper Sandusky junior Emery Pahl (138, 31-7); Bluffton freshman Thayne Kleman (106, 30-11) and sophomore Kaden Basil (138, 28-16); Hopewell-Loudon junior Caden Crawford (132, 47-3); Elmwood sophomore Gunner Endicott (160, 44-7); DiRe (junior, 195, 36-7); and Columbus Grove junior Jeff Meyer (285, 42-4) also were state qualifiers.