The Ohio High School Athletic Association has suspended all winter postseason tournaments because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"All remaining #OHSAA winter tournaments are postponed until further notice. This includes boys basketball regionals and state wrestling, ice hockey and girls basketball," the OHSAA announced in a tweet at 12:56 p.m. Thursday, March 12.
The tweet was posted as executive director Jerry Snodgrass made an official announcement during a press conference at the state girls basketball tournament at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
Earlier, girls basketball players were on the court warming up for the state tournament.
"This decision, though it may appear as the last minute, is based on so many developing situations that have occurred in the last eight hours," Snodgrass said. "As much as we want this opportunity for our kids and our schools and our communities, we have to look at the safety aspect that these mass gatherings create."
The postponement decision came two days after the OHSAA announced the tournaments would go on but with limited attendance after consulting with Gov. Mike DeWine. Attendance was to have been limited to four family members per athlete and two family members per coach.
"We went into the week as recent as last Friday, we communicated to our schools that we were moving forward as normal," Snodgrass said. "All that had transpired in that time from Tuesday to Wednesday, we had to conduct our tournaments with limited attendance. Now in this short period of time, we now are forced to postpone indefinitely."
The OHSAA's decision also came one day after the NBA announced it was suspending its season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus.
Also on Thursday, March 12, the Big Ten canceled the remainder of its men's basketball tournament and the Mid-American Conference canceled the remainder of its tournaments for men's and women's basketball.
Later in the day, the NCAA announced it had canceled "all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships," and the NHL and MLS also paused their seasons. Major League Baseball suspended the rest of spring training and pushed back opening day "by at least two weeks."
"Everything points to ... the spread of this is increased in mass gatherings," Snodgrass said. "We have 630 wrestlers alone, just the participants at the state wrestling tournament."
Upper Arlington wrestling coach Matt Stout, whose team had four state qualifiers, said he was not surprised by the OHSAA's decision.
"You can’t justify putting high school kids out there to compete when the pros aren’t," he said. "I don’t question the decision, but it’s hard for the kids. You have to trust the people who are making the decisions."
Snodgrass admitted it wasn't easy to put the state championship dreams of so many athletes on hold.
"Probably because of my past experience as a teacher, I’ve always been a believer that there’s more value in these tournaments than just winning and losing," he said. "The experience of tough situations, they will learn to deal with that through this.
"As a coach and an administrator, I know how much these people have invested into this. Taken to another side of things, I don’t know if I could do what I’m doing today without that experience. That’s also why it’s so emotional for me."
He also offered to talk with athletes about the decision.
"I can’t say that I know exactly their emotions, but I do know what they’ve put into it," he said. "It’s not just the work that they’ve put into it, it’s the emotions they’ve put into it."
As for the possibility of the tournaments being canceled, Snodgrass said: "So much of this is an unknown right now. When, if schools close, how long will that be? To say that they’re canceled, I don’t want to say that yet, but it is on the table."
The Reynoldsburg wrestling team had its first state qualifier since 2014 in senior Noah Ratliff, who was scheduled to compete at 152 pounds.
"It is heart wrenching,” coach Jon Forgy said. "I feel for the athletes and all of the hard work that they have put in to reach this point. Some have waited their whole career to get to this level. I understand the circumstances and what needs to be done but hope something can be done to allow these athletes to complete this tournament in another way."
The Harvest Prep boys basketball team was one win away from making its third consecutive Division III state tournament after winning its regional semifinal March 11 when news of the postponement hit.
"We are sad, hurt and mad,” coach David Dennis Sr. said. "(There has been) a lot of investment with time, money, physically and mentally by the players, parents, coaching staff and school. We definitely understand the concern, but we should at least be able to finish the season. All we can do is support this decision, but that doesn't mean we have to like it. I'm hurt for my players and school and my coaching staff."
The Dublin Coffman wrestling team had advanced seven competitors to the Division I state tournament, including defending champion Seth Shumate at 195 pounds.
"Just a few days ago, I had a sense of relief that the show would go on, with or without a large number of fans at the Schott," coach Chance Van Gundy. "Today I'm in disbelief. Our sport is all about sacrifice. I feel bad for all of the wrestlers across the state that have sacrificed so much and might not be able to see all of their time and hard work pay off. This is unprecedented and I'm still trying to process the situation. Hopefully we'll have more definitive answers in the upcoming hours."
Delaware wrestling coach Kevin Rieman, whose team had six state qualifiers, said he understood why the OHSAA was taking these precautions but felt terrible for the athletes who worked throughout the season to earn state berths.
"It's very sad for the athletes," he said. "I understand the decision and looking out for the safety of all involved, but (I'm) just devastated for the kids right now."
The Thomas Worthington and Westerville Central boys basketball teams were just hours away from their Division I regional semifinal at Ohio Dominican when the OHSAA news broke.
"(It's) very unfortunate for our student-athletes that have dedicated and sacrificed so much to get to this point in the season and, for the seniors, their careers," Thomas coach Sean Luzader said. “However, we focus on controlling what we can control. We will refocus and be prepared to compete in the regionals again if we get the opportunity."
Central was a first-time district champion. Delivering the news to his players "was one of the most difficult conversations I’ve had to have," coach Kevin Martin said.