Less than two days after announcing strict spectator restrictions, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has indefinitely postponed all winter sports tournaments. The decision comes as coronavirus COVID-19 continues its spread across Ohio and the United States.
The virus, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday, had killed at least 38 people in the U.S. as of Thursday afternoon and thousands more worldwide.
“Everything right now points to the spread of this being increased tremendously by mass gatherings,” OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass said on Thursday. “Those mass gatherings, we have one. We have many of them across the state right now.”
Four area basketball teams are affected. Fort Loramie and Minster’s girls team were slated to play in Division IV state semifinals on Thursday evening at Ohio State University’s St. John Arena and had already begun traveling to Columbus.
Anna’s girls squad was scheduled to play in a D-III semifinal on Friday. Jackson Center’s boys team was slated to face Columbus Wellington School in a regional final on Friday at UD Arena.
Those games won’t happen as scheduled and may never happen, though Snodgrass said that hasn’t been decided.
“So much of this is an unknown right now,” Snodgrass said. “Some is based on when and if schools close and how long that will be. To say that (tournament events) are canceled, I don’t want to say that yet, but that’s on the table.”
Snodgrass said the OHSAA told schools as recently as last Friday it was not planning on making any changes to its postseason tournaments.
Then came the announcement on Monday by Governor Mike DeWine of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio. DeWine issued a state of emergency soon after and requested all sporting events in Ohio ban most spectators, in addition to requesting large public gatherings of any kind be avoided.
The OHSAA followed DeWine’s wishes on Tuesday and announced late in the day it would limit access at tournament events. Athletes participating in each event would be allowed to designate four people to purchase tickets while coaches and other support staff would be allowed to designate two people to buy tickets.
There were several boys basketball regional semifinal games at sites across the state on Wednesday that played with limited spectators, including at UD Arena where Anna faced Stivers in a D-III semifinal in front of about 250 people.
With more cases being reported on Thursday and further communication with the Governor’s office and other state governmental entities, Snodgrass said the association decided to postpone all events. DeWine announced shortly after on Thursday that he would sign an order banning all gatherings of 100 or more people.
“This is certainly one of the toughest days of not only my career and my staff’s career,” Snodgrass said. “Every single day, my staff works for these opportunities four our kids. We stress opportunities for our kids.
“As much as we want this opportunity for our kids, we have to look at the safety aspect that these mass gatherings create.”
The decision was made after a meeting in Columbus early Thursday, which included some athletic directors and coaches from state participants already in town.
“I can certainly respect some people disagree (with our decision), but I will tell you the athletic directors and coaches in that meeting were supportive,” Snodgrass said. “Disappointed, but (they) understood. I think that speaks volumes of our schools and our partnerships …that they know we’re doing what’s best for our kids.
“We’re not doing this for any other reason than what’s best for our kids and our nation’s health right now.”
Snodgrass said the spectator restrictions and postponements will hurt the nonprofit association’s income.
“Eighty percent of our revenues come from (tournament) ticket sales,” Snodgrass said. “We did the math the other day, and I believe for our regional and state tournaments, the profit is well over $1 million dollars. Will we take a hit? Yes.”
Snodgrass said refunds will be issued for all tickets purchased for state tournaments.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.