Commentary: Central Ohio athletes showing resilience during COVID-19 pandemic

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Jarrod Ulrey is a sportswriter for ThisWeek.

While the fall sports season was far from easy for athletes, parents and schools, to call it anything but a success would be inaccurate.

What the winter sports season holds is anyone’s guess, but Ohio has proven it can thread the needle.

The first weekend of December typically is reserved for celebrating seven prep football championships and having athletes in winter sports kicking off their seasons.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, of course, forced a radically different look.

Imagine being in the shoes of the Ohio High School Athletic Association the past few months.

The organization has always stated that it receives 80 percent of its revenue from gate receipts at state tournament events, so when the office of Gov. Mike DeWine mandated limited attendance during the fall season, the OHSAA knew it would be facing numerous tough decisions but still kept the athletes’ best interests in mind.

Believing fall contact sports eventually would be approved but not knowing for sure, the OHSAA took a leap of faith in August and planned for a season while heeding the recommendation of the governor's office to finish the fall championships before Thanksgiving.

That entailed scrapping the traditional 10-week football regular season in favor of a six-week regular season, after which every team would be able to compete in the playoffs and the state championships would conclude during the third weekend of November.

It turned out to be a brilliant decision when considering that Michigan paused three of its sports Nov. 15 in the middle of their postseasons.

There still are three weeks of football playoff games left to be played in our neighboring state, which means those championships likely will stretch into January.

The OHSAA again showed it can adjust on the fly when it moved the final six state football championship games from Fortress Obetz to Massillon on Nov. 19 after Franklin County Public Health announced a 28-day stay-at-home advisory.

It’s been stressful for everyone involved in prep sports.

For sportswriters, particularly in August, the question of whether any sports would be played and having numerous backup plans in place in case they weren’t hung over our heads.

The athletes, who simultaneously were forced to adjust to doing some or all of their schoolwork from home, had to deal with the constant anxiety of whether they might be exposed to the virus.

Unfortunately from that aspect, things aren’t likely to get easier, at least to begin the winter sports season.

Many central Ohio programs won’t begin competing until mid-December, with the City League not even allowing practices until at least Dec. 18.

During the fall sports season, outdoor events were largely unaffected by postponements or cancellations. But girls volleyball, the only indoor fall sport, saw every team in the CCL as well as several from the OCC endure two-week quarantines because of positive coronavirus tests or contact tracing.

That would seem to imply that athletes in winter sports, all of which are held indoors, could have a rough go of it as their teams navigate schedules that include multiple events every week.

The one thing that's clear is how much the athletes want to compete. It’s been so impressive the last few months to watch these young people show their dedication to their teammates and their sports.

It meant so much to them that they were able to participate, and don’t underestimate the lengths they’ll go to make sure that happens again this winter.

It’s up to us to support and encourage these athletes — or cry alongside them, if necessary — as we all get through this difficult period.

It won’t be easy, but you can bet it will be as memorable as the fall.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek