Communication among Ohio High School Athletic Association employees may be hitting a new high even though they’ve been working remotely since Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order began March 23.
Their meetings have included extensive planning, which is something executive director Jerry Snodgrass knows will remain as important as ever during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“In the first two weeks of the shutdown, we were meeting every single day,” Snodgrass said during a teleconference with statewide media April 21. “We’re meeting as a staff once or twice a week, but we’re meeting as departments daily, so the communication has been great. The forward planning our staff has done speaks volumes for what our staff is doing to prepare for the what-ifs, and there are a lot of concerns about the fall. … I’m concerned, but we’re planning.”
On April 20, the OHSAA told its member schools that the spring sports season was canceled. Earlier that day, DeWine announced that school buildings would remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
The OHSAA’s mandatory no-contact period for all sports remains in effect through at least Sunday, May 3, but could be extended.
June traditionally has been a busy month for boys and girls basketball programs to get in their offseason practice days, with July typically being a big month for football programs.
The offseason schedules for those three sports, which typically are among the biggest moneymakers for the OHSAA, remain uncertain because of the coronavirus.
“A lot of the what-ifs in June and July will be dependent on if facilities are open,” Snodgrass said. “We’ve tried to stay in step with what (DeWine) was going to do. The overriding issues with it are the health and safety concerns. I don’t know what those are going to look like, what are regulations with social distancing, does everybody have to wear a mask? A lot of decisions are about what are the health and safety recommendations that come out of this. Secondly would be a simple fact of can facilities be opened or not. Facility usage is going to be a main, main thing.”
The OHSAA suspended the state girls basketball, state wrestling, state hockey and regional boys basketball tournaments on March 12 before canceling them on March 26.
On April 8, the OHSAA announced that it had a tentative plan in place for an abbreviated spring sports season, but the plan was contingent on students returning to their classrooms Monday, May 4.
Hartley track and field coach Reggie Osborne, who formerly coached cross country at the school and also serves as the Hawks’ assistant athletics director, believes the OHSAA will use similar caution as it puts together a plan for fall sports.
“What they did is put together something where if the season has started in May what that would look like and they’ll probably do the same thing in the fall,” Osborne said. “They probably will reassess the same type of thing once the governor makes it a little more clear over the next couple months about what’s going to happen.
“I tell my kids that you can only control the things you do, and that this, too, will pass. I have that positive opinion about it, although it may be longer than we’re used to.”
According to Snodgrass, among the concerns, in addition to when fall sports athletes can begin competing again, has to do with how they’ll respond after losing what could amount to several weeks of conditioning and offseason training.
“If things are shut down during the summer, we’ll have an awful lot of athletes that will not have had physical activity,” Snodgrass said. “In the absence of that, we have to be very concerned about the other health and safety about being ready to participate, not just in football, but in all fall sports.
“I just talked to a Division I college (administrator) outside of our area and they’re talking about an eight-game schedule, narrowing down the end of the season. We already play football in December and it’s a crapshoot (with the weather) in golf in mid-October, but that’s when it comes to the creativity of our staff. We’re used to 16 games in soccer, but maybe it’s only going to be 10. I don’t want our regulations to handcuff us on what we’re able to do.”
The OHSAA has yet to decide on eligibility for fall sports athletes because of the remote learning that was thrust upon students this spring.
Another concern, according to Snodgrass, is the availability for athletes to get physicals.
With 80 percent of the OHSAA’s revenue generated by ticket sales, losing profitable events such as the boys and girls basketball and wrestling state tournaments from the winter, as well as boys and girls lacrosse from the spring, Snodgrass and his staff will remain creative out of necessity when it comes to fall contingency plans.
Reynoldsburg football coach Buddy White is doing everything he can to help keep his players busy during the uncertainty, providing workout plans and communicating remotely.
His biggest concern is getting started up during the summer coaching days or later and having things shut down again because of the coronavirus.
“I’m champing at the bit like everybody else is,” White said. “When they say, ‘Go,’ we’re going to be ready to go. Our coaches have done a great job of planning, and planning ahead. We’ve been looking at all the scenarios and I’ve got a feeling that once they tell us it’s time to go, the teams that are prepared the best are going to be the most successful.
“If it’s (dangerous), they’re not going to open it up. I truly believe that. I’ve got 80 kids on my football team and another 35 on our freshman team and if one of those kids gets sick, are they going to shut us all down? From a selfish standpoint and this would be echoed by coaches, I don’t want to start and stop, that if somebody gets sick that you don’t want to have to shut the whole school down. We’re still learning about this thing.”