Lights were turned on at high school stadiums throughout the state at precisely 8:20 p.m. April 20 and stayed on for 20 minutes — or in some cases, 20 minutes, 20 seconds — as a way to honor the class of 2020.
It was not planned as a farewell for this year’s seniors, but that’s what it became just after 2 p.m. that day, when Gov. Mike DeWine announced that school buildings would remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
Three hours after that, the Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled spring sports for the first time in its history, putting six weeks of angst, hope and uncertainty to an end.
Not only was it a foregone conclusion and the best call, but it was the only call that could have been made even though seniors will miss out on the usual rites of passage because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Ultimately, this is about much more than a lost senior day, season or tournament run.
It’s about public health, both physical and mental.
It’s about focusing on what comes next, from completing the fourth grading period to childcare arrangements to getting back to whatever “normal” becomes.
“Taking the emotion out of it, taking all of the dread out of it … it was a chance for us to move on,” OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass said in a teleconference with statewide media April 21. “As soon as we got that behind us and it became a reality, it gave us a chance to move on and start our planning for whatever we can plan.”
The OHSAA is to be credited for being proactive, reactive and realistic through a grueling process that began March 12 when spring sports and the remaining winter tournaments were indefinitely postponed. The remaining postseasons for boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey and wrestling were canceled 14 days later.
That is a tough mix, but consider:
*The OHSAA based its toughest decisions, the cancellations, on word from the state and waited until there was little-to-no recourse to make another decision. In other words, nothing was rash.
*In case there were spring sports, the OHSAA released a plan April 9 that was contingent on school buildings reopening May 4. Under the plan, seasons would have started May 9 and wrapped up over the final three weekends of June.
Doses of optimism never hurt anyone, provided the optimism was realistic.
In this case and at that time, it was.
*Snodgrass consistently acknowledged that a spring sports season was unlikely at best from at least early April on and regularly communicated that, both through traditional media and social media.
“I know the leadership role that that has to be done, but none of that is without the emotions attached to it,” he said April 14 in an interview with a Huntington, West Virginia, radio station. “One of the things that this has done is it has really highlighted how bad kids want to be back in the classroom.”
All of that was before the Trump administration released a three-phase plan April 16 to reopen the country, the first phase of which advised that schools closed at the time — virtually every school in the country — should remain closed.
Three days later and on a much more local level, news broke that more than 1,800 inmates at the Marion Correctional Institution had tested positive for the coronavirus. In the blink of an eye, one facility — granted, a prison and by definition a confined space — had more cases than any single county in the state.
If we have learned nothing else over the past two months, it’s that the coronavirus is sneaky no matter where you are. No protection is certain, including increasingly popular masks.
If one athlete, coach, fan or official is infected, that’s one too many. The blowback would be swift and harsh.
Snodgrass admitted having some hope of salvaging the spring sports season into mid-April, even as the final call ultimately rested with the state.
“But over the last two or three weeks when I looked at numbers and I looked at the scientific aspect, that this is going to be around until there is a vaccine … the only way we can stop (the virus) is not to be around each other,” Snodgrass said. “I don’t know how I could ever put kids at risk.”
Regrettably, but understandably, sorry is less important than safe.