Having captured 10 state field hockey championships and four state girls lacrosse titles in nearly three decades of coaching at Columbus Academy, Anne Horton understands better than most the adjustments necessary to win at the highest level.

With the Ohio High School Athletic Association having a new executive director for the first time in more than a decade, she expects the organization responsible for coordinating state tournament events to continue to evolve in the way it deals with schools, student-athletes and prep sports.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION Tweets by OHSAASports

"My association with the OHSAA for the past 27 years has witnessed a growth in the sports sector that has challenged the organization from many areas," Horton said. "My initial impression when Columbus Academy recognized girls (sports) back in 1991 was that the OHSAA provided a baseline for an organizational balance for schools, maintaining the proper number of games (and) start dates. ... Unfortunately I feel that the OHSAA has evolved into being the gatekeeper as the culture of sports has created a desire to find success at any cost."

On July 9, Jerry Snodgrass became just the 10th executive director in the 111-year history of the OHSAA after Dan Ross retired. Ross had been the commissioner since Aug. 1, 2004, when Clair Muscaro retired after a 14-year tenure.

Among the issues Ross has dealt with that now will fall to Snodgrass include the need to increase the number of officials and referees, determining the next step regarding competitive balance and dealing with player transfers and recruiting.

From an OHSAA perspective, remaining solvent and relevant in an environment that features growing youth and club sports is a balancing act.

"I don't think high school sports now are like high school sports 10 years ago," Ross said. "The nature of that landscape is changing very, very quickly, and there are a lot of reasons for that. For us in the OHSAA, we have a standard for what high school sports are all about, and in a lot of ways over the next five to 10 years, that standard is going to be clashing up against a lot of the other philosophies of why kids should be involved with athletics. ... That team concept as far as how we think about it I hope is not in jeopardy, but I think there's probably going to be some different visions of what that means."

The cost of doing business

Throughout his tenure as commissioner, Ross championed not charging the more than 800 high schools a membership fee while also having the OHSAA pay for catastrophic accident insurance for students who participate in a sanctioned sport.

That's a viewpoint which Snodgrass fully supports.

With that philosophy in mind, the OHSAA receives about 80 percent of its revenue from ticket sales to tournament events.

The OHSAA is, in the words of Ross, "holding our own" financially but always with an eye on improving in that area.

Last winter, the total paid attendance of girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics and hockey was similar to 2017. But at the boys basketball state tournament in 2018, paid attendance was $89,442, down from $100,392 in 2017.

Football, which is another of the OHSAA's big revenue generators, had the total attendance at the seven state finals go from 55,421 in 2016 when they were played at Ohio State to 61,312 in 2017 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

On the flip side, the total attendance for the five rounds of the football playoffs decreased by 34,106 tickets in 2017, the first year that each of the seven divisions played each of the first four rounds on Friday nights.

That decrease prompted the OHSAA to return to a structure in which three divisions will hold their playoff games on Saturday nights. That change begins this fall.

Sanctioning boys and girls lacrosse, a well-established club sport, in 2017 also has helped the OHSAA's revenue stream, according to Snodgrass.

"If you look at the numbers from 2004 to now, we've lost a total of 93,000 in attendance over the 12-game sessions of our boys (basketball) state tournament," Snodgrass said. "Multiply that by $12 to $15 a ticket and that's a significant loss of revenue. ... There's just more things to do now."

Another matter the OHSAA is focusing on is that the number of officials and referees in multiple sports has dwindled in recent years.

According to a study done in 2017 by the National Federation of State High School Associations, there has been a steady decline nationwide for myriad reasons, including stagnant pay, poor treatment by fans and retiring individuals who aren't replaced.

Snodgrass is hopeful the OHSAA can find a "happy medium" in how it teaches officiating, including considering online courses.

Ryan Schwieterman, the boys tennis coach at Watterson, is a football official at the prep and college levels who has seen the effects firsthand.

"When you look at the ages of officials, the ages are probably in the upper 50s and 60s," Schwieterman said. "There are very few young people that want to get into officiating. There's pressure. You've got people mad at you. You've got to make a decision, and for young people it's tough. I love being out there because there's not much better that you can do on a Friday night."

Leveling the playing field

One of the final referendum changes that took place under Ross became official May 16 with the OHSAA's latest attempt to curb transferring.

If an athlete transferred without meeting an exception to the transfer bylaw up until 2013, he or she would be ineligible for the entire calendar year.

The rule was changed that year so that athletes were forced to sit out the first half of a season's contests in a sport that they had played during the previous 12 months.

In the latest change to the bylaw, athletes who do not meet one of 11 exceptions are eligible for the preseason and the season's first half but must sit out the second half of the regular season as well as the postseason.

According to Reynoldsburg football coach Buddy White, the OHSAA "must get a handle on illegal recruiting," which many believe goes hand-in-hand with the transfer issue.

"Though some schools claim that their coaches are not involved in recruiting, they're well aware of the booster groups and parents who have a very organized recruiting program," White said. "I have a group of people who have approached me about going after the top players in central Ohio to convince them to come to Reynoldsburg. I've told them that that is not how we do business here. ... It's going to get worse if (the OHSAA doesn't) get a handle on it."

Hartley football coach Brad Burchfield isn't sure whether the latest transfer alteration will be enough to change what he calls a "transfer culture" at some schools.

"Rampant transferring is creating an uncomfortable and uneasy climate in Ohio high school athletics," Burchfield said. "Loopholes that allow convenient custody, short-team leases and games people play with rentals all in order to transfer schools is a terrible thing and is affecting Ohio high school athletics for the long term.

"People are smart enough to use the rules to their advantages, but in the end it hurts the community, hurts the school in the long term and hurts the kids themselves. It creates a dirty feeling and schools lose credibility that they should have in representing themselves in interscholastic competition. ... Eventually the community school will be morphed because of justifying high school free agency, and that will be very sad."

Smooth transition expected

One of the biggest changes that took place under Ross occurred when competitive balance was passed.

The addition of an enrollment modifier based on the residence in which each respective roster member lives was first proposed in 2011, was passed in 2014 and was implemented for the 2017-18 school year for selected sports.

Snodgrass isn't expecting something as major as competitive balance to be on the agenda anytime soon, although both he and Ross consider that an evolving concept that remains on the OHSAA's itinerary.

"There are adjustments in our sport regulations that affect the everyday day-to-day, but as far as putting a lot of changes out there, I don't (expect many changes)," Snodgrass said. "Now is a critical time to get those changes right and assess them. (Competitive balance) is probably the most visible thing that's a work in progress. Is it perfect? Dr. Ross has said probably not, but it's a step.

"The transfer bylaw, even though there's a lot of controversy, it's a step to address the issue. We need to get those things right before we start putting a lot more things out there."

The OHSAA's emerging sports committee likely will meet in the near future as interest grows in sports such as boys volleyball, archery, eight-player football and competitive cheerleading.

Snodgrass was on the OHSAA board of directors when boys and girls bowling became sanctioned sports for the 2006-07 school year and understands the value in potentially adding new sports.

Regarding some incumbent sports, Horton and Gahanna girls soccer coach Bob McGee hope the OHSAA will continue to make minor scheduling adjustments when it comes to postseason tournament setups.

The state field hockey tournament is held on back-to-back days, which leaves little time for adjustment, according to Horton.

McGee would like to see the OHSAA continue to expand its girls soccer state tournament after adding a third division in 2011.

Count Olentangy Liberty wrestling coach Mark Marinelli among those who see the OHSAA at its core, regardless of what changes are coming, as having the best interests of student-athletes in mind.

"The OHSAA does a great job with scholastic sports," Marinelli said. "They're very fair and try to create the best environments for our students to perform. Wrestling has a great setup right now. ... (The) OHSAA has done a great job running wrestling and making minor adjustments over time."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek