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By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay High School wrestling coach Ben Kirian had mixed expectations when he tuned in to Thursday’s press conference by Ohio High School Athletic Association Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass regarding the suspended winter sports tournaments and spring sports seasons.
He left that briefing feeling much the same way.
“I watched most of it. I got the gist that it’s still wait and see,” Kirian said. “I guess we’ll know more in the next 24 to 36 hours.”
Ten days ago, Kirian was preparing three of his wrestlers — seniors Jonah Smith and Jake Noon and freshman Hudson Goebel — for the ultimate goal of any prep athlete, the OHSAA state tournament at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
Just days after earning their spots on the state tournament brackets with top-four finishes in their respective weight classes at the Division I district tournament at Perrysburg, those plans had to be shelved.
An initial announcement from the OHSAA said that, because of coronavirus concerns, attendance would be limited at all OHSAA-sponsored events — specifically the girls basketball, wrestling and hockey state tournaments and boys regional basketball games.
When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine mandated that all kindergarten through 12th grade schools be closed through April 3 due to the virus threat, the OHSAA had already postponed winter tournaments. A day later, the OHSAA issued a no-contact period for all high school sports for a period of three weeks.
In Thursday’s announcement, Snodgrass said that while winter sports tournaments and the spring sports seasons remain postponed, the possibility of canceling them “is on the table.”
“From where I’m sitting, the longer it goes the less likely it (state tournament) is going to happen,” Kirian said. “I know me and the guys are mentally prepared for that, that we won’t get to wrestle again. That way if we do get to (wrestle), it’s a bonus.”
With schools closed and practice facilities unavailable, Kirian said his wrestlers have basically been on their own when it comes to training.
“They’re keeping their weight down and their heads up,” Kirian said. “It’s been tough, but the kids, honestly, after getting past that first feeling of frustration, have been pretty good. We talk every couple of days to make sure we’re all in the same frame of mind.
“I’m 40 (years old). I’ve never experienced anything like this, so it’s hard to put it into reference. At least it seems, in Hancock County anyway, that everybody is still healthy, and that’s what’s really important here.”
On a wall in Findlay High School, across from the “Wall of Records” for each of the school’s sports, hangs the team pictures of the Trojans’ 2019-20 varsity programs.
On the left are team photos for the FHS fall sports; in the center are photos for the winter programs.
On the far right hang frames for Findlay High’s spring sports teams.
All six are blank.
According to FHS athletic director Nate Weihrauch, “69 home and away contests and scrimmages had been canceled/postponed” as of March 16.
“Certainly with a no-contact period, suspension of indoor events and mass gatherings we are on shut down like everyone else,” Weihrauch said.
A greater question might be “if” activities resume.
Sensors bring on the lights in the Findlay High gymnasium when anyone enters the area. But even on a recent afternoon when a light rain might have forced practice inside, there is no crack of the bat from a batting cage, no thump, thump, thump of a ball hitting a glove, no instruction from coaches or the chitter-chatter of young athletes.
On bad days, track athletes will sometimes run the halls of the school. On this day, only the mop buckets and janitor carts of the custodial staff dot the Findlay High corridors.
Findlay High’s baseball and softball teams were scheduled to open their seasons on March 28, the boys tennis team, coming off its first Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship, on March 30 and the Trojans’ boys and girls track teams on March 31.
All remained sidelined as Thursday’s announcement by the OHSAA left them in limbo as well.
“It could have been better. It could have been worse,” FHS softball coach Paige Jensen said of Thursday’s announcement.
“Listening to it today, it gives us a little bit of hope, especially for our seniors. We’re looking at it as just being delayed.”
Findlay High’s softball program has gone 73-48 overall and 43-27 in Three Rivers Athletic Conference games in Jensen’s five seasons as head coach. And while the OHSAA may have imposed a dead period as far as practice and coaching, Jensen said the program was not caught totally unaware.
“We’ve been communicating, texting, messaging, asking that they work out on their own,” Jensen said. “Get with mom, dad, siblings in the backyard and throw as much as you can, especially the pitchers. Keep that arm going.
“Things might have come to a stop — and not by any of their doing — but the girls are staying hungry. Something like this might even make them hungrier to prove that Findlay softball does have talent and can be a contender.”
Sean Swisher’s take on Thursday’s announcement mirrored that of Jensen.
“I was hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” said Findlay High’s boys tennis coach.
“I was prepared to hear the worst, that the spring season was canceled. When I didn’t hear that, my take on it was, well no news is good news.
“The major takeaway from it was, even if they have to back things up a bit, they’re optimistic they can still get the spring season underway.”
Swisher admitted to frustration when the original announcement suspending spring sports was made.
“I keep reminding myself I’m not the only one in this situation,” Swisher said. “Tons of coaches and tons of teams are facing the same thing. You have to face up to it and hope for a solution.”
Meanwhile, the waiting game goes on.
“Most of the guys have been out hitting with one another, staying active, working out, keeping their energy levels up,” Swisher said.
“The kids have worked hard for this season. We’d like to get going and show that last year was no fluke.”