By DAVE HANNEMAN
Arlington’s “Spirit Coach” is a lost soul these days.
With no school and no spring sports, the Red Devils’ most dedicated — and one of the area’s most likable — super fan has been silenced.
“This has taken a toll on poor David,” Arlington Athletic Director Dick Leonard said of Dave “Feathers” Featheringill, a devout and devoted fan of the school.
“He usually calls every other day. He comes over to the house once in a while. But nothing’s going on. He’s bored. I’m bored. About all you can do is hunker down. The virus is not magically going to go away. That’s the dilemma, that’s the frustration.”
Athletic directors and coaches — and especially the athletes they represent — had held on to a sliver of hope they might still have some sort of a spring season this year. But when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced on Monday that schools would not reopen this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, a domino effect was that the OHSAA, as it had stated earlier, would be cancelling all spring sports.
“First and foremost, our hearts really, really go out to the spring sports athletes, not just at Arlington, but the whole BVC (Blanchard Valley Conference), Findlay, the whole (Findlay) Courier area,” said Leonard, a 36-year veteran of area athletics, including the last 20 as Arlington’s athletic director.
“We have some tremendous spring sports athletes — track and baseball and girls softball. It’s just a rotten shame those athletes are not getting to enjoy their spring season. That goes double for the seniors. This is it; there is no more for them.”
“This has been a challenging time for everyone,” said Findlay High Athletic Director Nate Weihrauch.
“My heart is broken for the Class of 2020 and our spring senior athletes. Expectations were very high for all our spring teams with league titles, district championships, and state appearances. They were prepared, but I believe everything happens for a reason and this will make us all stronger.
“Athletics teaches us many life skills and valuable lessons such as being a good teammate, work ethic, respect, discipline, friendship, resilience and how to overcome adversity. We are certainly learning as we travel this journey and we will overcome this. I am proud of our students and will certainly miss our seniors.”
While all schools and thousands of athletes have been adversely effected by the coronavirus pandemic, Columbus Grove has borne a greater injustice than most.
Undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state polls, Columbus Grove beat No. 2-ranked Antwerp 55-50 on March 10 in a battle of 25-0 teams in the Division IV regional boys basketball semifinal at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center. Two days later, the OHSAA suspended all remaining winter sports tournaments.
The OHSAA would eventually cancel all winter sports tournaments. Tuesday’s announcement officially cancelling all spring sports was another blow for a school that is usually strong in spring sports, especially track and field.
“We were undefeated, ranked No. 1 in basketball and hoping to win it all when we were stopped short,” said Columbus Grove Athletic Director Terry Schnipke.
“A lot of our kids are also in track or baseball and were probably thinking, well, we still have that. But they won’t even get to start their season.
“I don’t know which one is worse.”
The OHSAA, optimistically anticipating a possible reopening of Ohio schools sometime in May, had amended and extended the spring sports season. Athletic directors started doing the same.
“We rescheduled the Bulldog Invite,” Schnipke said of a track meet the school hosts every year.
“We were also scheduled to host the NWC (Northwest Conference) and PCL (Putnam County League) meets this year. We rescheduled them hoping we might get them in.
“A lot of ADs were coming up with ideas like playing three league games a week in baseball and softball. In our situation, being in two leagues, we’d basically be playing six games a week.
“I told our coaches a week or so ago, I said in my heart I’m hoping it’s going to happen, but my head tells me it’s not going to.”
While tentative plans were being bandied about, officials at all levels were dealing with a never-before-seen situation there was no game plan for.
“It’s such a crazy thing to try to navigate through,” Leonard said.
“I think the OHSAA has done a tremendous job paralleling things with what Gov. DeWine is doing. The announcement (cancelling spring sports) was not a surprise, but it is a shame. It’s been a real challenging time. I know coaches are frustrated. I know athletes are frustrated. We are such social beings. Ninety percent of high school athletes do it because their friends do. They want to be around their friends as much as anything and if that’s taken away, there’s a real void in their lives.
“I shouldn’t say the kids are deprived because it’s no one’s fault. But to not have the opportunity to connect with friends they’ve been playing with since little league, since youth basketball, since junior high track, that’s just heartbreaking.”
Even before DeWine’s announcement, most Ohio schools had planned to turn on the lights at their stadiums and ball fields at 8:20 p.m. Monday for 20 minutes in recognition of the senior class of 2020.
At Columbus Grove’s Clymer Stadium, Schnipke said it was an emotional time.
“(Columbus Grove girls track coach) Tim Staley took it upon himself to get on the PA system and announced some of last year’s results,” Schnipke said. “It was a shout-out to our seniors for some of their accomplishments in league, regional and state meets last year.
“Out in the parking lot afterwards there were 15 or 20 seniors — keeping proper social distancing, of course. Seeing them all there, that was tough.
“I talked with one of the kids who ran cross country and played basketball and was expected to do very well in track. I told him, no one knows what the good Lord has in stock for you, but I hope it’s pretty good because you’ve had one really tough year.”