After consulting with Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio High School Athletic Association executive director Jerry Snodgrass announced plans March 10 to limit the number of fans at regional and state tournaments to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Attendance will be limited to four family members per athlete and two family members per coach. All previously purchased tickets are void, according to the OHSAA. Read the OHSAA press release for more details.
A few hours before Snodgrass held a news conference at the OHSAA, DeWine said all sporting events in the state — from high school to professional — should proceed without most spectators.
“Knowing the significance that our events play in the life of a high school student, (DeWine) agreed to allow parents to attend the contest and I commend him for that because of the time and effort and sometimes the money that our parents put in for those kids to make that happen,” Snodgrass said. “Our staff has heard me say this many times: ‘hoping for the best and planning for the worst.’ We have been doing that for several days.”
The strategy will be in effect through at least the state boys basketball tournament scheduled for March 19-21 at Ohio State’s Value City Arena.
The state girls basketball tournament takes place March 12-14 at Ohio State’s St. John Arena, followed by the state wrestling tournament March 13-15 at Value City Arena and the state hockey tournament March 14 and 15 at Nationwide Arena.
“We’re going to go on with our events and try to make the most memorable experience that we can for the student-athlete, the coaches and the schools that are involved,” Snodgrass said.
He said plans are in the works to offer live streaming so fans who aren’t allowed to attend can still watch. He added that talks are continuing on the process of refunding money to fans who purchased tickets but won’t be able to attend because of the restrictions.
Credentialed media members will be allowed to cover the events.
Delaware wrestling coach Kevin Rieman, whose team has six state qualifiers in Division I, expects a different vibe at Value City Arena.
“I think it will be bizarre and noticeable, but in the end, these kids aren’t there for that," he said. "They are there for their opportunity to compete against the best in the state.”
Hartley wrestling coach Kevin Petrella, whose team has three state qualifiers in
Division II, said: "Disappointing. I'll leave it at that."
Dublin Scioto wrestling coach Adam Huddle, whose team has four state competitors in Division I, said the OHSAA's decision “doesn’t change our approach. We have a job to do.”
Dublin Coffman wrestling coach Chance Van Gundy, whose team captured the Division I district championship March 7 at Hilliard Darby, took the news in stride.
“I think I’m speaking on behalf of wrestlers and coaches alike when I say we’re just grateful to compete,” he said. “The wrestlers work too hard to not see their opportunities and dreams through. Once the whistle blows, nothing else matters anyways.”
Olentangy Liberty wrestling coach Mark Marinelli expects a much different atmosphere in the state tournament, where the Patriots will have four competitors.
“I guess we elect people to look after our best interests,” he said. “We’re not happy but trust that the best decision is being made by those elected to serve us. The wrestlers will still compete, but the intensity will be lower for sure.”
Olentangy Berlin wrestling coach Josh Heffernan will miss seeing “a big sea of double blue” in the stands at state, he said, referring to his school’s colors, but he was glad the tournament would be held.
“I would have hated to see an asterisk next to a kid’s name because they competed this year if there was no (state) tournament,” he said. “That’s bad for any kid who just wants to have a chance to compete for a state title.”
Upper Arlington wrestling coach Matt Stout expects competitors will soldier on.
“I don't think it affects performance, but it definitely changes the feel of the tournament,” he said. “For a competitor, it's kind of blurry because there are 10 matches going and there's so much going on at once. I wrestled in four state tournaments and I only remember hearing the crowd once just because there is so much going on."
However, he noted the “wrestlers are going to be in close contact" given the nature of the sport.
Regional tournament boys basketball games scheduled for March 10 will not be affected by the changes because of the late notice, according to Snodgrass, who added talks will continue on how to handle the spring sports season.
“We have to consider the safety aspect and the health aspect first,” he said. “I know the challenges that that creates. It would be wrong for me to go against the governor and the state superintendent recommendation. I have to support that, and I do support that.”