OHSAA will not conduct wrestling, basketball and ice hockey tournaments for 2020 season
The heartbreak is finally official.
In what seemed like an inevitable decision, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced Thursday afternoon it was canceling all winter sports tournaments for good because of the Coronavirus pandemic. That includes the state wrestling meet, which six Logan County wrestlers were set to compete in.
“We knew this was coming,” said Bellefontaine head coach Brady Hiatt. “You could see the hand writing on the wall for a while. As much as you want to hold onto that one percent of hope, there is 99 percent of it being shut down. It wasn’t surprising they canceled it, but it was still disappointing.”
The OHSAA originally set an indefinite postponement for all winter sports tournaments on Thursday, March 12, the day before the state wrestling meet was to start. As a result, the six local state qualifiers were put in limbo. That group included Benjamin Logan’s Steele Boysel, Joel Abbott, Noah Clark and Cadman Roose, Indian Lake’s Hayden Pummel and Bellefontaine’s Garrett Gross.
Boysel, Abbott, Clark and Gross are seniors, meaning this was their last chance to compete at the state meet.
It was later announced March 12 by Governor Mike DeWine that schools across Ohio would be closing for three weeks. School facilities were ordered to be closed statewide and coaches were not to have contact with athletes until the tentative restart of school April 6. That meant, in a best-case scenario, the state wrestling tournament would not be conducted until late April, at the earliest.
Expecting athletes to compete in the biggest tournament of the season after a month of no contact, and wrestlers having to make weight again, makes for a very difficult reality.
As difficult as the thought of having no state tournament was, the rapid spread of the virus put sports in proper perspective.
“This isn’t about wrestling any more,” said IL head coach Ryan Dickson. “Hayden and I talked right after it was canceled. I told him that things like this don’t get canceled for random stuff. They get canceled for war and real reasons.”
A press release from the OHSAA on Thursday stated that these four winter state tournaments (along with wrestling, boys and girls basketball and ice hockey were also canceled) and a few events during World War II (1941-45) are the only sports cancelations in the history of the OHSAA, which was founded in 1907.
“This isn’t a game, it’s the real world,” said Dickson. “This is how it unfolded and yeah, it sucks, but you have to keep your head and be smart. You can’t freak out and you have to keep going. Hayden’s goals are the same, they’re just on hold for right now. The real world trumps competition. He was super mature about it and handled it well.”
A junior, Pummel was the most accomplished local wrestler entering this year’s state tournament after placing seventh last season. He was projected to win the Division III state championship this season at 160 pounds.
“This was really hard to accept,” said Pummel. “I felt like went through the stages of grief to overcome this. I mean, I train my entire life to go wrestle at the state tournament and it’s really hard to have it taken away so easily.
“My attitude going forward is that I ended the year believing I was untouchable and going to win. Now, I know what it takes and I’m going to jump right back into the place where I left off this year. I view this as a stepping stone in my career. I’m going to be looking forward to going after a state title and claiming the number-one spot next year.”
Ben Logan was having its best season in 15 years. The Raiders tied the program record for most state qualifiers in a single season. Head coach Kyle Seeley made sure his wrestlers knew that while this ending was not indicative of their season, it will always be remembered.
“I’ve tried to let them know that even though this has happened, this does not take away from their accomplishments this season,” said Seeley. “It’s very unfortunate they don’t get to finish it on a high note. There are so many other things in life, though. Wrestling is icing on the cake.
“The lessons they have learned is where you get that feeling of accomplishment now. It’s easier said than done, especially for a 17-or 18-year old. This decision doesn’t take away a state qualification, but it takes away that moment and that feeling of that environment. Unfortunately for seniors, it takes away a chance at the podium.”
The news of the state meet being canceled was perhaps most difficult for the senior athletes, who will always have to wonder what could have been.
“It’s huge in a couple of aspects,” said Hiatt. “You have a lot of seniors who maybe hadn’t been on the radar of college coaches. The state tournament is the place to do that. There are hundreds of coaches that come to state, so they are missing out on opportunities for that now.
“There were also schools that were hoping to win their first state title and wrestlers hoping to win state titles. In wrestling rooms around Ohio, state placers and champions have their names and pictures on the wall forever. That is something a lot of guys will miss out on, trying to make history. There will also be some freshmen who were predicted to win state titles, and now will have no shot at being a four-time state champion. This decision is quite a big deal in a lot of ways.”
A senior, Gross was looking at his first and last state meet appearance after missing out by one win the past two seasons.
“It’s upsetting that it is canceled, but it’s not in our hands,” said Gross. “This has made a huge impact on me, though, because everyone who makes it to state knows that state is an experience not everyone gets. It’s also more than wrestling, though. It’s about the bonding that happens through those three days between the wrestlers and coaches.”
In the end, all six area wrestlers will have the memories they did make before the state tournament. Most notably is Ben Logan’s group of seniors who helped move the program back into the limelight.
“These seniors had a Division III state dual meet championship appearance,” said Seeley. “That hasn’t been done since 2005. At our banquet I will let everyone know that this senior class is what helped the program turn the corner.
“When I took over I said it would take five years to get things going. They are going to leave something behind that I know I can talk about as a coach for years to come. Our younger wrestlers from the kids club up to the high school saw what they did. The seniors left a legacy behind, and not just our senior state qualifiers, but all the seniors on our team.”
There was no update given on spring sports in Thursday’s press release from the OHSAA. It did state that more information would be provided when available. Currently, the tentative start for the spring season is April 11.