Fort Loramie girls basketball coach Carla Siegel was hoping the defining photograph of the team’s run to the state final four would be taken on the sidelines at Ohio State University’s St. John Arena this weekend as the team was on the court.
Instead, the defining photo may have been snapped by Siegel herself on a bus Thursday afternoon.
The Redskins (26-0) and three other area basketball teams saw their tournament runs halted on Thursday when the OHSAA announced it was suspending all winter sports indefinitely in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Fort Loramie had already left for Columbus for its Division IV state semifinal against Willougbhy Cornerstone Christian. The team was eating lunch at a restaurant in Marysville when Siegel was notified of the indefinite postponement.
“I had taken the girls’ cell phones from them and got a phone call,” Siegel said. “I made sure it was 100 percent accurate and came back in and told the coaches. We decided to let the girls eat because they were having a good time.
“When we got back on the bus, I told them that the season is pretty much over, and we headed back to Loramie. It was a tough conversation to have.”
Siegel later snapped a photo of players huddled on the back of the bus 25 minutes after being told of the indefinite postponement and posted it on Twitter with a caption “a team united.”
Thursday’s blow was the second of the week. The first came on Tuesday when the OHSAA initially announced tournaments would proceed with spectator access strictly limited. Each team participating in a game would have been able to designate about 80 people to purchase tickets for that contest.
Strictly limiting spectators was itself a discouraging circumstance for a small village school system like Fort Loramie. When its high school sports teams advance to state contests, most of the closely-related village empties and heads to the game, along with many expats from around the state.
“I told them Tuesday the good news is we’re still playing, but the unfortunate news was it was just pretty much going to be parents (in attendance),” Siegel said. “The girls were stung by that. They want their friends there, they want their entire families there, they want their entire community there.
“Two days later, we were hit with a much bigger punch to the gut.”
The OHSAA chose to indefinitely postpone the tournament on Thursday hours before Governor Mike DeWine announced he was signing an executive order to ban gatherings of 100 or more people. DeWine’s order is designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, which Ohio officials said on Thursday could already have infected 100,000 people in the state.
“It took the wind out of our sails,” Siegel, who is in her 21st year as head coach, said. “All of us were crushed. The coaching staff, the water girls that were on the bus with us.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time and I never had anything like this. I never saw this coming. I don’t have the right word — surreal maybe. It’s hard to wrap your head around.”
As big of a blow as the decision was for all winter sports tournament participants, it was particularly demoralizing for the Redskins, which were hoping to finally earn a state trophy after coming close the last two years in two sports but losing to neighboring rivals.
Fort Loramie lost to rival and eventual D-IV girls basketball state champ Minster in regional finals each of the last two years. The Redskins gave Minster some of its closest tournament contests each year.
Minster, which played in the Northwest Ohio regional instead of the Southwest regional this year, earned a state semifinal berth for the third consecutive year and was slated to play Beverly Fort Frye in a state semifinal on Thursday night after Fort Loramie’s matchup.
Victories by Fort Loramie and the Wildcats (22-5) would have set up a state final on Saturday between the two schools, which are less than five miles apart. The two teams played each other in a nonconference game on Nov. 23 in Minster; the Redskins won 47-19.
A basketball title would have also come after close misses by the school’s volleyball team the last three years. Several basketball players also played for the volleyball squad, which lost to nearby rival New Bremen in regional matches in 2017 and 2018 and lost to the Cardinals in the D-IV state title match last November. The two schools are separated by less than eight miles.
Fort Loramie — which was ranked No. 1 in the final Ohio Associated Press D-IV girls basketball state poll — was optimistic about its title chances. The squad was averaging nearly 30 forced turnovers per game and had largely been dominating opponents. It had won all of its games by at least 14 points, won 22 games by at least 30 points and won 15 games by at least 50 points.
“It’s tough, especially for the seniors,” Siegel said. “But my senior group, I’ve talked about them all year. They’re just wonderful people. They’re hard workers, great leaders and great role models for the younger kids. They do everything you ask them to do.
“To be at the best point in the season and burst their bubble by telling them some of the worst news you can imagine, it’s heartbreaking.”
That’s far from a certainty, though. The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio were reported on Monday, and experts say the spread will very likely continue to increase into the next month.
“We’re in limbo,” Siegel said. “We’ll see how things turn out.”
If the spread of the virus stops, it will likely be at least a month before tournament play resumes.
Playing after a long layoff would introduce another set of odd circumstances into one of the oddest seasons ever.
“I don’t really know how to feel about the prospect at all,” Siegel said. “We won’t have practice for at least three weeks, then to get your team back together and try prepare to win, I don’t know. It’s very odd to me.
“But our team is resilient. If that may happen and we’re told to practice and prepare for a state tournament, we’ll do it. We’ll do everything we can to get ready for that stage.”
For now, there are no more photos take.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.