Winter competition came to a close in the most anticlimactic fashion March 26, with the Ohio High School Athletic Association announcing that the remaining tournaments were canceled.
Athletes and coaches in boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey and wrestling had been holding on to a glimmer of hope for 14 days, after their postseason runs were postponed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The cancellations closed the book on a prep season that featured waves of emotion for central Ohio athletes.
The fourth weekend of February included the first Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association state girls tournament, in which three central Ohio competitors won championships, as well as the Dublin Coffman girls swimming and diving team capturing its first Division I state title.
Little did anyone know at the time that when the Gahanna girls bowling team won its second Division I state championship in three seasons March 7 that it would mark the final OHSAA state tournament to be completed.
The Africentric girls basketball team was two steps away from winning its third consecutive Division III state title after having qualified for its fifth state tournament in a row. The Nubians were one of 16 girls teams to advance to a state semifinal.
Those girls basketball teams, along with 41 boys basketball teams, four hockey teams and 672 wrestlers from across the state will have to settle for knowing they finished among Ohio’s best. The OHSAA said no state champions will be listed in those sports.
“I tell my seniors to get ready for college, good luck to you and sorry your season ended this way,” Africentric girls basketball coach Will McKinney said. “For the kids coming back, really be safe and be ready for next year when you come back in the summer.”
According to the OHSAA’s press release March 26, “it is anticipated that schools will not be able to open for many weeks, which prevents interscholastic athletics from taking place.”
While the start of the spring season remains postponed, the cancellation of the four remaining winter tournaments marks the first time that the OHSAA has canceled events since World War II. The OHSAA was founded in 1907.
“We are just devastated that the tournaments cannot be completed,” OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass said in the press release. “But our priority is the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, communities and officials. Gov. Mike DeWine is asking all Ohioans to do everything they can to stop the spread of this virus. That request, along with our schools not being able to reopen for weeks, means that school sports cannot happen at this time. Even if our schools reopen this spring, it will be difficult to find facilities willing to host the tournaments. Most campuses are shut down until mid to late summer.
“We are already planning for ways that these student-athletes will be honored at next year’s state tournament.”
Boys basketball had reached the regional level when the OHSAA announced March 10 that the remainder of the postseason would be played only in front of a limited number of family members. Two days later, that edict was changed to an indefinite postponement because of increasing concerns about the coronavirus.
In boys basketball, Grandview (Division IV), Harvest Prep (Division III), Hilliard Bradley (Division I) and Wellington (Division IV) all had qualified for regional championship games, while Thomas Worthington and Westerville Central were to have faced each other in a Division I regional semifinal March 12 and Beechcroft and DeSales were to have played in separate Division II regional semifinals that same day.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed with the finality of things for our season,” Central coach Kevin Martin said. “We also understand what’s going on in the world right now with the health and safety of everyone. With that being said, we need to look at all the positives that came out of this year with our team. I couldn’t be more proud of what this team accomplished. To win the first district championship in the 17-year history of Westerville Central High School is very rewarding. I’m disappointed for our seniors to not be able to see this through.”
Bradley beat Walnut Ridge 59-32 in a regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio Dominican before a limited number of spectators.
Getting a third shot at Bradley after losing to the Jaguars twice in the regular season was among the goals for Thomas and junior point guard Jalen Sullinger, whose team captured its first district title since 2001.
“We really wanted to see how far we (could) take it and I feel bad for (the seniors) having to walk out like this,” Sullinger said. “(Winning a district title) is a good way to walk out, but I think it could have been better for them.”
The New Albany hockey team was set to make its first state appearance after upsetting second-ranked Upper Arlington 3-2 in a district semifinal March 1 and beating Olentangy Liberty 4-2 for the district title March 7.
In wrestling, Coffman’s Seth Shumate, the defending champion at 195 pounds, and Westerville North’s Connor Euton (138) both advanced to the Division I state tournament with undefeated records, as Shumate was 43-0 and Euton was 37-0.
The chance for Shumate, a sophomore, to be a four-time state champion ended with the cancelation of the state tournament.
Other central Ohio wrestlers who entered state as district champions were Coffman’s Corey Crawford (106) and Riley Ucker (220), Dublin Scioto’s Dylan Le (113), Daniel Segura (152) and Deron Pulliam (182), Hilliard Darby’s Bradley Weaver (heavyweight), Liberty’s Lucas Uliano (145) and Westerville South’s Aaron Morton (160) in Division I and Columbus East’s Ammaar Salaam (106) and Hartley’s Joey Petrella (182) and Michael Petrella (120) in Division II.
“The state tournament being canceled (is) pretty upsetting because I had a goal this season of becoming a two-time state champ going into my junior year,” Shumate said.