By Jeff Harrison
It certainly wasn’t unexpected considering the current state of affairs, but the cancellation of the entire spring sports season by the Ohio High School Athletic Association is still unsettling.
Locally, athletic directors Eric Sholtis (Shenandoah) and Eli Svercek (Caldwell) knew what was coming, but were among those who held out hope until the door was closed last Monday when Gov. Mike DeWine announced that all schools facilities in Ohio would remain closed for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year as a precaution aimed at “slowing the spread” of the coronavirus (COVID-19) .
“As we have stated in our previous communications, the announcement by Gov. DeWine to close schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year also will now result in the cancellation of OHSAA-sponsored spring sports seasons including tournaments,” OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass wrote in a memo to all schools.
“We hate to hear that our school year will be through distance learning and the cancellation of spring sports,” said Sholtis. “We have amazing kids and they have worked hard to compete and it is devastating to so many kids.
“I think it’s important that we keep things in perspective though with lives being lost and people’s worlds being flipped upside down with loss of employment,” he continued. “Our kids are resilient and will overcome these obstacles and their best years and moments are in front of them.
“To our seniors, we will miss you and hate that your senior year is ending this way,” said Sholtis, “but your athletic and academic success is not defined in one sports season. It has been a 13-year process and you should always focus on the process, on being a champion, rather than winning championships!”
Caldwell’s Svercek echoed Sholtis’ sentiments.
“Obviously, the OHSAA has made a tough but correct decision to cancel spring sports,” he said. “Logistically, it never made sense to play if schools were to stay closed, but just because it was the right decision doesn’t make it easier on anyone involved and the athletes and coaches who have dedicated countless hours of time to their craft.
“When we heard the news about a possible shortened season,” Svercek continued, “we lined up some local games with Shenandoah, Fort Frye and a few others. We really tried to do what we could in the event that a season was to be played.
“I just want to thank the coaches, players and especially the seniors who this impacts for all of their dedication to the sports that they lost this spring and everything they have given these last four years,” he added. “I truly feel for each and every senior who has lost their chance to play the sport they have since they were kids.”
“I have talked with all of our spring coaches,” said Svercek, “and each one is still trying to find a way to get their teams together when it is safe and as we move through the phases of this. They are looking at some way to pay respect and honor their seniors and also recognizing each of their players.”
Both ADs are hopeful that things are back to “normal” before the 2020 fall sports season arrives.
“As we look into preparing for fall sports,” said Sholtis, “we are hopeful but we will be following the advice of our government and department of health. We hope that we can start off the 2020-2021 school year in our buildings and with all of our sports.
“It is important that our student-athletes are continuing to focus on academics in this difficult time,” he pointed out. “Your eligibility is based on the fourth nine weeks grades.
“We are working hard to prepare for when we are able to return, added Sholtis. “We will overcome this adversity, we will not let this define us, and Zep Nation will ‘makeIThappen.’”
“Right now, we are looking forward to hearing from OHSAA about possible summer schedules for fall and winter sports,” said Svercek. “We are very hopeful that coaches can have some gym/field time with athletes to prepare for the upcoming seasons. The OHSAA sent out a survey with questions of what to do in the summer and we are looking forward to the plan they put out with the information gathered.”
In an interview last week, Snodgrass reflected on the unprecedented times that the pandemic has brought to the nation and the impact it has had on schools and interscholastic athletics.
“I’ve heard from so many people who have said ‘You really need to understand what this means to our kids,’” Snodgrass said. “I’m a parent. I was a coach. I grew up every day as a player and a coach wanting to play high school sports and get to the state tournament. So I do think I understand that. I also have to go with the fact that my number one concern that I have, over everything, is the health and safety of everyone involved. It’s not just our student-athletes. It’s the parents, coaches, umpires, officials, the scorekeepers. All those things enter into this. It’s a tough decision and it’s one that I and all the other Executive Directors of the other states never thought we would have to do. Never did I think this would be the case, but I’ve tried to be as prepared as I could every step of the way.”
Snodgrass also addressed the summer and start of fall sports in the interview.
“July is a very physical month for our student-athletes entering fall sports, so we have already started looking at, if this continues through the summer, we’ll have the potential of having a lot of kids who haven’t had the physical activity that they would normally have going into a fall season,” he said. “So for the health and safety of everyone, we have to look at the acclimation period going into the fall, if that happens. We have to be prepared for that. We’re also talking about that, if this does go through the summer, what is the likelihood that a student can get in to get a physical (annual medical exam). We have a sport medicine advisory group that is looking at that. They are looking at all aspects such as whether artificial surfaces need to be treated. We are relying on the advice of experts in our decision making.”
The OHSAA’s mandatory no-contact period for all interscholastic sports remained in effect until at least May 3, which could be extended. Coaches and school administrators are encouraged to have non-mandatory electronic and online communications with their student-athletes. The closure of school facilities includes all athletic facilities for any interscholastic training, practice or competition.
The OHSAA will continue to communicate throughout the spring and summer regarding any adjustments to OHSAA off-season regulations, academic eligibility standards, sports medicine updates and more.