Nineteen years ago, my family made two trips to Columbus to support the Canfield High School girls basketball team in the state tournament.
We were far from alone — Canfield residents were everywhere to exhibit pride for such a rare and special accomplishment.
At the Schottenstein Center on a Thursday night, the Cardinals, coached by Pat Pavlansky, won the Division II state semifinal, 54-40, against Pemberville Eastwood.
Two days later, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Cards fell to Cincinnati Archbishop McNicholas, 52-40.
Several of my daughter’s classmates were on that Canfield team. We ached for the players and their families afterward but walked away from an overall terrific experience.
For the semifinal game, I remember sitting across the arena from the Canfield section and watching the smiles of the players’ families as the game progressed.
Pretty sure I’m not the only Canfield resident with great memories from those games. (Although I was a sportswriter for The Vindicator, I attended as a fan, not a working journalist.)
State tournaments are special, and it hurts writing about a cancellation.
Over the years, I was fortunate enough to cover several Mahoning Valley teams who qualified for state. In 2007, Joe Scalzo and I covered the Poland boys basketball team’s state semifinal. In 2014, I was at the Schott for the final game of Peyton Aldridge’s varsity career at LaBrae. Same for West Branch’s Melinda Trimmer in 2015. I saw Sebring’s boys team in a 2004 semifinal.
Perhaps the most special day was in March 2004 when Ursuline won the Division III girls title, then three hours later West Branch captured the Division II crown.
A dominant memory from those experiences was watching communities cheering on their students. It doesn’t get much better. Which is why Thursday’s postponement of Ohio’s remaining state tournaments is sad, yet necessary.
About 15 minutes before Thursday’s West Branch girls basketball team was to play Dayton Carroll in the Division II state semifinals at St. John Arena, the Ohio High School Athletic Association shut down the remaining winter tournaments because of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Later that afternoon, Ohio announced a ban on gatherings of more than 100.
The state wrestling meet was scheduled today through Sunday at the Schottenstein Center. The state ice hockey tournament was set for Nationwide Arena today and Saturday.
And the remaining boys basketball regional tournaments had games set Thursday through Saturday all over Ohio.
Chaney High School, whose boys team was making its first regional appearance in 19 years, was to play Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary on Thursday at the Canton Civic Center in a semifinal game.
For now, all those plans are gone.
“We will use this time to work with the appropriate state authorities and health experts to determine our next steps,” said Jerry Snodgrass, OHSAA executive director.
Rescheduling tournaments is possible but unlikely.
“We realize this is disappointing for our participants and their fans, but the overall health and safety of everyone involved in our tournaments is a priority,” Snodgrass said.
Disappointment abounds, but so did some class. The West Branch girls team’s Twitter account, West Branch Lady Warrior Basketball, posted “Warrior Nation, thank you for your endless support all season long.
“You helped us achieve the dream of being able to step on that court in Columbus. What a season.”
The remaining tournaments already had been affected by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s proactive leadership to limit crowds in Ohio. On Tuesday, the OHSAA announced that beginning Wednesday, remaining tournaments would have limited spectators.
“We are following the governor’s instructions and are doing this for the safety of Ohioans,” Snodgrass said. “This a very difficult time, and we need our schools and our fans to know that we have been told we must do this.”
The OHSAA ruling basically limited each team to four tickets for each athlete’s family and two tickets for coaches and administrators.
Naturally, in this age of social media, outrage was expressed.
The OHSAA has not released a timetable for rescheduling.
Marlon McGaughy, Chaney’s head coach, is frustrated but understands the need for safety.
“It’s really what’s best,” McGaughy said. “[The virus] can be spread, and we don’t want anyone in danger.”
McGaughy said that because all Ohio schools will be closed for three weeks, he thinks the tournaments won’t resume.
“Since they canceled the NCAA Tournament, I am almost sure we are done as well,” McGaughy said, adding that “the hard part” is that his players deserved a chance to compete in such a big game.
DeWine’s leadership Tuesday became even more impressive Wednesday when the NBA suspended its season and the NCAA announced it would limit spectators to its winter tournaments.
Thursday afternoon, not long after the OHSAA decision was revealed, the NHL suspended its season and the NCAA canceled March Madness and all winter tournaments.
Major League Baseball announced a two-week delay to the start of its season.
The USHL suspended its season until April, telling teams, including the Youngstown Phantoms, that they cannot practice, train or have team meetings.
Had the high school tournaments gone forward with limited spectators, some say it would not have been quite the same.
Brian Dzenis covered three of the past four state wrestling tournaments for the Youngstown-version of The Vindicator.
“Probably the best-attended high school championship I’ve been to,” Dzenis said. “The thing with high school wrestling is that the people who are into it are REALLY into it, obsessed with it. There’s no casual high school wrestling fan.
“And it takes a lot of obsession just to be good at the sport, and when you are at the state level, you have all the kids who are great. It’s their life’s work culminating in three days — a lot say it’s the greatest three days of the year.”
On the opening days of the state meet, Dzenis said there would be as many as 15 mats going simultaneously.
“It’s constant chatter and whistles going,” Dzenis said. “You’ll always get a clue that something big is happening because you’ll hear a loud thud on the mat and the crowd go ‘ooooh.’”
South Range senior wrestler Anthony Czap placed sixth at last year’s state tournament and qualified again.
“It was such a major shock walking out of the tunnel and seeing how many people are there,” Czap said of the atmosphere inside the Schott.
Czap said that by limiting the spectators, he’s “not sure it would have that same state tournament feel.”
Life in the United States has changed drastically in the past four days.
It’s a shame that deserving athletes, including wrestlers such as Czap, West Branch girls basketball players and Chaney boys basketball players, won’t get their shot at a championship or the experience of hearing your community roar for you when the stakes are highest.
But that is part of the world in which we now find ourselves.