Once the news broke March 12 that the Ohio High School Athletic Association had suspended the remaining four winter tournaments because of the coronavirus, Gahanna girls track and field coach Roger Whittaker was among the spring sports coaches in central Ohio who prepared for difficult conversations.
For Whittaker, who was named national Coach of the Year in girls track in January 2019 by the National Federation of State High School Associations Coaches Association, managing the circumstances changes “every hour.”
“Because it’s changing so rapidly, it looks like we’re going to be down for a while,” said Whittaker, who has coached Gahanna since 1989. “School is down for three weeks and we’re not going to be able to do anything. Things won’t start up until at least mid-April and that’s being optimistic. This is all so new to all of us that we just don’t know. Part of that is, are we even going to have a season? It’s a possibility we may not.”
On March 13, the OHSAA announced a mandatory “no-contact period” for all school-sponsored sports would begin March 17 and run through April 5.
A day earlier, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that all schools in Ohio would go on a three-week break beginning the afternoon of March 16 and running through April 3.
If the tentative return-to-school date of April 6 set by DeWine remains in effect, spring sports teams then would have between April 6-10 to hold what the OHSAA called “mandatory practices and/or acclimatization,” with scrimmages and regular-season contests allowed to begin April 11.
The spring state tournaments currently remain as previously scheduled.
“Hopefully, the decision-makers at the state and local level along with the OHSAA do not make any long-term decisions now,” Westerville Central athletics director Andy Ey said. “The spring sports competition season has not even started and does not culminate for almost three months. During or after this time of social distancing with schools closed, those groups can re-evaluate the situation and make a decision based on the circumstances that exist at that time.”
The OHSAA also “highly discouraged” spring sports teams from making any out-of-state trips and urged teams to cancel trips if possible.
“We also know that it is impossible in a few cases to obtain refunds,” the OHSAA said in a press release. “In those instances, we have no choice but to permit that to continue.”
Any contest played during that time will count toward the total number of games permitted in the regular season and no new trips may be scheduled, the OHSAA said.
The Hilliard Davidson boys lacrosse team canceled a scheduled trip to Maryland.
“I don’t think we will be back from this three-week break,” Wildcats coach Adam Beasley said. “Hardest thing I have ever had to do is walk into a room knowing it might be the last time my seniors are a member of my program that I spent years building.”
Boys and girls lacrosse teams were permitted to begin practicing in late February, and their seasons had been scheduled to begin Friday, March 20.
The Dublin Jerome boys lacrosse team was scheduled to face Watterson in a scrimmage March 13, but the contest was canceled. Celtics coach Andy Asmo believes teams would be able to pick up where they left off if practice is allowed to resume April 6.
“One-hundred percent you can have a season if you start April 6,” Asmo said. “These guys are 16, 17 years old, so give them a (short) window (of practice). It’s way above my pay grade, but I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
Olentangy Berlin wrestling coach Josh Heffernan, whose program has two Division I state qualifiers, empathizes with what spring sports coaches are going through.
The postseason has been postponed indefinitely for girls basketball, wrestling and hockey at the state tournament level and for boys basketball at the regional tournament level.
“We had 95 percent of our season,” Heffernan said. “We lost our state tournament. I bet there are a lot of seniors out there in spring sports that are wondering what that means for them and what it means for their senior seasons in track and softball and lacrosse and baseball and (boys) tennis. It’s tough stuff.”
After his team won its fifth Division I state indoor championship in six seasons March 7 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Whittaker is holding out hope that his athletes will get a chance to compete at some point this spring.
The Lions finished third at the outdoor state meet last June.
“It’s tough because we’ve not been here before,” Whittaker said. “The first thing I said when I gathered (the girls) all around was that I don’t have the answers. You guys are going to have to work out on your own. Try to prepare and understand that you’ve got to be ready whenever we come back. They’re confused a little bit, but we all are.”