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OHSAA limits fans at events

AUSTINTOWN — The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday that state tournaments will be held with limited spectators because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass said Monday in a release that those allowed to attend indoor sporting events will “most likely be no more than the immediate family of the student-athletes participating in the event.” The governing body for Ohio high school sports later sent a second release with details regarding upcoming events.

Three state tournaments are set to begin later this week. The girls basketball tournament starts Thursday at St. John Arena. The individual wrestling tournament commences Friday at the Schottenstein Center, and the ice hockey tournament begins Saturday morning at Nationwide Arena.

The OHSAA’s latest release said all previously purchased and complimentary tickets for the upcoming state tournaments are now void and new tickets will be sold. For girls basketball, wrestling and ice hockey, student-athletes are permitted to designate four family members to purchase tickets. Coaches and administrators are allowed to designate two family members. Tickets will only be sold as single-session tickets.

For regional boys basketball, student-athletes on participating teams (players and cheerleaders) also can designate four family members. School administrators and bus drivers receive one free ticket for themselves and a guest. The ticket sales at regional sites will be cash-only at entry.

The statements from the OHSAA were in response to Gov. Mike DeWine announcing via Twitter that, “For indoor (athletic) events, we are asking for no events with spectators other than the athletes, parent, and others essential to the game.”

Snodgrass said the OHSAA must comply with the governor’s demands.

“We are following the governor’s instructions and are doing this for the safety of Ohioans,” Snodgrass said. “This is a very difficult time, and we need our schools and fans to know that we have been told we must do this. We must pull together to do the best we can to conduct these tournaments so that the student-athletes can still finish their seasons, which have gotten them to the pinnacle of their sport.”

Overall, the area has 17 wrestlers from nine different schools set to attend the individual state wrestling tournament. The West Branch girls basketball team plays at 1 p.m. Thursday in a Division II state semifinal against Dayton Carroll High School.

The news of limited spectators is not going over well with area coaches.

The Eastern Ohio Wrestling League held its state tournament media day at Fitch High School on Tuesday, and coaches expressed their displeasure with the decision.

“It’s very disappointing,” Fitch wrestling coach John Burd said. “You’ve got kids that have worked all year, some of them multiple years or a lifetime, who should get the full experience. One of the great parts about the state tournament is the atmosphere — being in a great situation, big crowds — that’s part of the event. Who’s going to rise up? I guess we’re going to see how it goes. You just hope for the best for all the competitors. It’s still a great situation for them to compete. They’ve worked so hard to get this experience, and you just want them to enjoy it.”

Fitch has three wrestlers competing in the tournament.

Canfield, which has been the Division II state runner-up three of the last four years at the individual wrestling tournament, has two wrestlers competing and generally has a large fan base at the Schottenstein Center. Coach Steve Pitts understands the need to be cautious, but the response by those involved has been a bit much in his eyes and will detract from one of the OHSAA’s most attended state tournaments.

“I get it, but it’s probably an overreaction,” Pitts said. “I understand when you have a large crowd, and you’ve got stuff spreading, but the bottom line is our kids are going there to wrestle. Whether there are fans or not, they’re still going to wrestle

“It’ll probably take away from the best state tournament in the country. With how the OHSAA puts on the event, it’s spectacular. Without the fans, it may take away from that a little bit, but again, as long as they’re having it, it really doesn’t matter to me.”

West Branch basketball coach Walt DeShields is taking a similar approach.

The Warriors are in the state’s final four for the fourth time under DeShields, winning a state title in 2004. He and the team’s initial reaction was followed by the understanding that safety needs to come first.

“Of course when you first find out about it, you’re really disappointed,” he said. “The team works really hard, and you get down to Columbus. The kids are disappointed because a lot of their family members can’t attend the game, or their friends from school. But then you sit back and say health and safety are the No. 1 concern, and also it’s decision you can’t control. We’re going down to state, and we’re trying to focus on that.”

The OHSAA also stated in the release that tickets purchased online via credit card will be refunded by Ticketmaster to the same credit card. Tickets purchased via check will be refunded in approximately four to five weeks. Tickets purchased with cash at the Ohio State University ticket office can be returned for a refund on-site.

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