The familiar sound of fans passionately cheering for their teams at regional and state high school basketball tournament games across Ohio along with state wrestling and state ice hockey events in Columbus this weekend will be missing, or at least greatly reduced, this year.
After Gov. Mike DeWine said on Tuesday afternoon that he would like to see all indoor sports events played with no spectators other than parents and others essential to the games to try to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, the Ohio High School Athletic Association quickly agreed with that suggestion.
“This will be a very difficult time for our schools and fans, but we cannot ignore the directive of the Governor,” OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass said in a press release. “We are pleased that our tournaments can continue and we will soon determine who can attend. However, we can already say that it will most likely be no more than the immediate family of the student-athletes participating in the event.”
Snodgrass said during a press conference on Thursday afternoon that probably the only fans who would be admitted to the games would be four immediate family members for each player on the competing teams.
“But we have not finalized that number,” Snodgrass said.
This decision comes in one of the biggest weeks of the year for high school sports in Ohio.
The state wrestling tournament and the girls state basketball tournament are scheduled in Columbus and boys basketball teams are competing at 16 regional tournaments for the chance to play in next week’s state tournament.
With the state wrestling tournament and the two state basketball tournaments scheduled to be played in facilities on Ohio State’s campus, OSU’s decision on Monday to go entirely to online classes until March 30 loomed over the tournaments even before DeWine spoke.
Snodgrass described the OHSAA’s approach in the last several days as “hoping for the best but planning for the worst.”
Division IV regional games at Bowling Green State University, the University of Dayton, Ohio University and the Canton Fieldhouse went on as usual on Tuesday night. But beginning Wednesday, including Anna’s Division III regional semifinal against Dayton Stivers at UD Arena, venues will be mostly empty.
“It’s disappointing but not just for our fans, for our players too because they play for the people in the stands,” Lima Senior athletic director John Zell said.
“With what Ohio State did, it kind of maybe gave us a road to see what was going to come in the future. I understand the health concerns, the safety concerns and it’s going to decrease ticket sales. We’ve sold quite a few tickets. It’s going to be a great disappointment for a lot of our fans. We suspended selling tickets, and a lot of people are pretty upset.”
Limiting attendance will also mean the Ohio High School Athletic Association will take a big financial hit. Eighty percent of the OHSAA’s revenue comes from ticket sales to its tournaments throughout the school year.
“I don’t have a proper word to describe the impact at this point. Maybe ‘significant’ is the best word I can find,” Snodgrass said.
Snodgrass said the possibility of rescheduling the games this week and next week to a later date was discussed but rejected because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that the spread of the coronavirus will get worse before it gets better.
The OHSAA girls basketball state tournament begins Thursday at St. John Arena, the wrestling state tournament begins Friday at the Schottenstein Center and the ice hockey state tournament begins Saturday morning at Nationwide Arena.