With one of his four children now living in California, another living in Colorado and with nine grandchildren, Dan Ross expects to spend more time traveling to visit family now that his schedule officially is freed up.

The former executive director of the Ohio High School Athletic Association isn’t sure what might lie ahead beyond that, but the ability to find solutions to problems, whether big or small, rarely has eluded him over the past 14 years.

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Ross faced a slight learning curve when he was hired to succeed Clair Muscaro as commissioner Aug. 1, 2004, because he had a background as a superintendent, principal, coach and official but hadn’t been on the OHSAA board of directors.

“I really love what I do, but it’s time to do something different,” said Ross, whose tenure with the OHSAA ended July 9. “With not having been involved with the OHSAA, I was involved with the schools, but I’d never been on a board. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. … It’s been a fun journey. Does that mean every day’s been great? No, there have been tough days.

“One of things that was a struggle for me coming from being a superintendent is when you’ve got a mom and a dad and they’ve got a youngster and you’re trying to work through how to fix a situation they’re in. You probably have a lot more latitude (as a superintendent) than you do as a commissioner of the OHSAA because you’re not allowed to modify and change the bylaws. So in order to try to fix those things, you have to tell them, ‘No,’ but then you say, ‘OK, give us the opportunity to try to fix this.’”

Ross, a 1967 St. Charles graduate who has spent nearly five decades serving in a variety of educational roles, was succeeded by assistant commissioner Jerry Snodgrass.

Ross announced Jan. 18 that he was retiring Sept. 15, but the date was moved up.

Before becoming the ninth commissioner in OHSAA history, Ross got his start in education in 1971 as an elementary school teacher and eventually worked his way up to being a principal.

He then served as superintendent at Hamler Patrick Henry from 1983-86, Pickerington from 1986-97 and Avon Lake from 1997-2004.

When Ross began working for the OHSAA, football was about to begin year six of having five rounds of playoffs, but it would be another nine years before a seventh division would be added.

In 2007, during his fourth year as commissioner, the OHSAA adopted boys and girls bowling as a sport, and by 2014, bowling had grown to the point where it was split into two divisions.

In 2013, the OHSAA added a state team wrestling tournament and seated events to the state track and field meet, and in 2017, boys and girls lacrosse were adopted as OHSAA-sanctioned sports.

The OHSAA also became more inclusive behind the scenes during Ross’ tenure.

“We added ethnic minorities to our boards, females to our boards and seventh- and eighth-grade people to our boards,” Ross said. “We’re much more resembling the constituency we serve. I feel really good about that.”

Another source of pride for Ross is what he believes are upgrades to the venues that now play host to championship events. For example, in 2015, the state boys and girls tennis tournaments were moved from Ohio State to Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.“Dr. Ross is a really good man,” Hartley football coach Brad Burchfield said. “There’s no question in my mind that he cares about kids and has made decisions based on what he sincerely thought was the best interests of the kids and schools. I’ve appreciated that he has held actual roles within high schools as an educator and administrator. He knows what it’s like to work with teachers, kids, parents, community members, etc., and understands these unique dynamics.”

All of those successes aside, Ross also has dealt with adversity inside his job as well as on a personal level.

He estimates that he’s overseen about 200 referendum items over the past 14 years, from the evolving transfer rules that were tweaked again in May to the addition of competitive balance.

The latter of those two issues hit a new level of urgency in 2009 when talks of splitting the public and private schools into separate postseason tournaments began to swirl. Competitive balance eventually was passed in 2014 and finally implemented in fall 2017. 

A much more personal threat during Ross’ tenure occurred in November 2015. After undergoing a routine surgery for a colon condition called diverticulitis, he suffered a massive heart attack as a result of a blood clot while recuperating in the recovery room.

Then in June 2016, he underwent a procedure to have an artificial heart pump installed and was placed on a national donor list.

It was during that time that the OHSAA brought in Dave Gray, a longtime administrator, to serve as interim commissioner. Gray held the position until December 2016, when Ross returned to work full time.

Then on June 26, Ross underwent a heart transplant at Cleveland Clinic.

Snodgrass considers Ross “one of the most wonderful bosses” he’s ever had.

“I’ve learned a ton from him,” Snodgrass said. “I can’t thank him enough. He fostered my creativity and did not get in my way. He’d have my back if I failed but would use my own creativity. Whatever you do, do for the betterment of the kids, and if I maintained that he let me do what I wanted to do. I’m going to miss that freedom.”

One of Ross’ biggest hopes is that the OHSAA will continue to hang on to what he believes should be its mission: to “take care of kids.”

That focus has helped make his job feel more like a joy than an obligation.

“With the number of referendum items we’ve had the last 14 years, a whole lot of them were efforts from appeals,” Ross said. “We don’t have a vehicle to fix this the way the bylaw is currently written, so how can we fix it? Let’s put it before membership and see how it works. … Anytime you’re working with kids and people that are working with kids, you have the opportunity to create some tremendous memories.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek