Being willing to “talk to anybody about anything at any time” is a philosophy that Doug Ute believes has guided him well over the past three-plus decades.
After serving in a list of roles that includes coaching basketball and working as an athletic administrator, principal and superintendent, Ute isn’t planning to change course from that viewpoint as executive director of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
“We want to stay in communication with all the different associations, so with athletics directors, principals, superintendents, officials and coaches associations, we really want to reach out to them and work hard at uniting as a group, particularly in these challenging times, to make sure the student-athletes have an opportunity to compete,” said Ute, whose new role was announced by the OHSAA on Sept. 8. “I thought (the last two executive directors, Dan Ross and Jerry Snodgrass) were very good communicators. Focusing on our student-athletes will be at the forefront.”
Ute announced last spring that he would become the deputy director of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators on Jan. 1, but instead he will be taking on the OHSAA position.
Bob Goldring has been serving as interim executive director since July 6 after Snodgrass was voted out by the board of directors.
Ute is a 1980 Bellville Clear Fork graduate who played basketball at Ashland University and previously coached the sport at Sarahsville Shenandoah and New Washington Buckeye Central. He also served as an athletic administrator at the latter of those schools.
He then was principal at Marion Elgin from 1996-2000, served as Elgin’s superintendent from 2000-09 and has been Newark’s superintendent since 2009. He also was a member of the OHSAA’s Central District athletic board in 2008-09 and has been the district’s secretary since the 2011-12 school year.
“(It is a) great pick by the (OHSAA) board (of directors),” Reynoldsburg athletics director and girls basketball coach Jack Purtell said. “Doug was a teammate of mine for three years at Ashland and he’s a man of high character. I’m happy for him and all the rest of us.”
Ross had served as executive director for 14 years and Snodgrass had been in that role for two years before he was replaced on an interim basis by Goldring, a 25-year OHSAA veteran tasked with guiding the restart of prep sports this fall during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The 2019-20 winter sports season was suspended on the opening day of the state girls basketball tournament March 12. The state tournaments in girls basketball, boys basketball, hockey and wrestling eventually were canceled, as was the entire spring season.
The OHSAA, a nonprofit organization that receives 80 percent of its revenue from ticket sales, announced Sept. 5 it was suspending the state dual team wrestling tournament indefinitely and making numerous other financial changes because of recent losses.
The changes include charging a $25 tournament entry fee for schools participating in boys and girls bowling, boys and girls golf, gymnastics, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field and boys and girls swimming and diving, and a $100 fee for both boys and girls lacrosse.
The OHSAA also reduced its full-time staff and cut senior staff pay by 20 percent.
“(The financial situation) is severe, but I’m of the belief that we’re always going to have the Ohio High School Athletic Association and the organization always is going to provide schools with an opportunity to compete,” Ute said. “One of the things we’re proud of is that we’re one of the few organizations that doesn’t charge a membership fee. We’ll also explore other options for revenue to come into the office.
“As a school superintendent and principal, I’ve worked with budgets. I’ve been fortunate in my time as superintendent to only ask for new money one time. The (OHSAA) office has already done some things to reduce expenditures, which is important for an organization that relies so much on gate receipts.”
Among the most pressing decisions is determining where the state finals in football will be held in November after being played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton the last three years.
Discussions also have begun regarding the start of the winter sports season. The first winter sport scheduled to begin practices is girls basketball Oct. 23.
“What we’ve learned since March is that things can change weekly or daily,” Ute said. “We’ll continue to work with (Gov. Mike DeWine) and the (Ohio Department of Health) and go from there.”
Ken Baker, who was named the commissioner of the OCC on April 23, has known Ute for more than two decades and believes “his heart is with high school sports.”
Baker was a part of the interview process in selecting Ute as executive director.
“He is so student- and child-centered,” Baker said. “Everything he’s done as principal, superintendent, coach, has always been about what’s in the best interests of the kids. He was an excellent choice by the (OHSAA) board of directors. … They really need someone who has a voice of experience and has a calm demeanor about them, but great leadership skills. Doug fits the bill on all that.”
Joe Bline, who is the athletics director at Dublin Jerome and a Newark graduate, also believes the OHSAA made the right choice.
“He’s good at working with people and he’s very personable,” Bline said. “Newark is my hometown and the people there really liked him and they thought that he did a good job there. His history of coaching and teaching and everything else has gotten him ready for the position.”