Sadness and heartbreak. Helplessness. Frustration. And anger. Lots of anger.
I’m here to tell sports fans and even the athletes and coaches that, yes, all of your feelings are justified, and you are most definitely allowed to feel them.
But there needs to be some understanding mixed in with all of that, too — a simple comprehension that all of this needs to be done and is being done for a very good reason.
Last week, the Ohio High School Athletic Association put all of its winter postseason tournaments on hold, postponing them indefinitely — leaving the door open to still having them in some fashion instead of cancelling them outright. It also was forced to delay the start of spring season due to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s closure of all schools until April 6, with the possibility of that entire season being cancelled existing, too, as the state works to slow down the spread of the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19.
Last week. It seems insane that it all went down so recently. This weekend right now should have been the boys state basketball tournament. Our 15 Miami County wrestlers should have been in the middle of competing at their state tournament a mere seven days ago. Girls basketball and hockey champions should have already been crowned.
None of that is what happened — and we all have lots of feelings about that.
Personally, my default coping mechanism for tragedies, of all sizes but especially ones this big, has been inappropriate humor. But it’s difficult to muster anything resembling even that in the middle of these historic events.
Mainly because my coping mechanism that is next in line is many people’s primary escape — watching or competing in sports. And whether it’s the high school level, college or professional, that simply isn’t an option right now.
And that absolutely needs to be the case, unfortunate as it is.
When that fateful last week started on March 9, Ohio announced its first three confirmed cases. By the time the OHSAA made its decision to postpone its winter tournaments four days later, the governor had already declared a state of emergency and put a plan in place to close all schools in the state until April 3.
And now? As of the time I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, there are 169 confirmed cases in the state, with 39 people hospitalized. The state also had its first two deaths as a result of the virus — with one of those deaths being linked to right here in Miami County. And those numbers can’t possibly tell the entire truth, either, as not everyone that needs to or should be tested gets tested, because the country — psh, the entire world — doesn’t have nearly enough tests.
Everyone that made jokes about this disease not being serious, just being like the flu, or — sigh, and this is a real thing somehow — just being a hoax? Were wholly and completely wrong. People are dead that shouldn’t be, and that’s the bottom line.
Social distancing isn’t just the buzz word of the moment. It’s necessary. It’s something we all need to be doing, whether or not we think we are at risk ourselves. The whole point of all of these initiatives is to protect the most vulnerable among us. Our freedoms end where someone else’s health and safety begin.
But we’re still allowed to feel what we feel — because the fact that these kids still don’t know whether or not they’ll get to compete is a tragedy.
Troy Christian’s wrestling team may never know if it would have won its fifth team championship. Eight kids, four of them seniors, may not get the opportunity to bring that prize home to their school. Ethan Turner could have finished his career a two-time individual champion. Jason Shaffer and Connor Havill may not get the chance to be four-time champions because their freshman year may not have a tournament.
Miami East freshman Cooper Shore is in the same boat there. Sophomore Max Shore was a runner-up last year and was looking to climb to that top rung of the ladder — and the county will never know if he and Covington junior Cael Vanderhorst would have ended up battling in the championship match for a third straight week after facing off in the sectional and district title matches. Fellow Viking sophomore David Davis was to compete in his first state tournament. And Vanderhorst’s teammate, Buccaneer junior Kellan Anderson, was hoping to bounce back after a disappointing showing at state as a sophomore.
And as for Troy’s Carlos Quintero and Milton-Union’s Peyton Brown? Two seniors and first-time state qualifiers that likely will miss out on their one and only chance to compete at the state’s highest level. Two careers’ worth of work without the payoff at the end of all the blood, sweat and tears.
These are just Miami County’s qualifiers, too. A total of 672 kids from all over the state qualified for the state wrestling tournament alone. Then there’s the girls basketball teams — two of which got pulled off the court while warming up for the first state semifinal matchup when the decision was made to postpone the tournament right before they were supposed to play. The remaining ice hockey teams were days away from competing, as well. And the boys basketball teams were in the middle of their regional tournaments, with some of them playing Wednesday night with a limited number of fans in the stands in an earlier effort to combat the spread of the virus.
For all of these kids, it’s watching their hopes and dreams go up in an invisible puff of smoke due to something completely out of their control. For the fans, especially the parents, it’s maddening to watch this happen to the kids and not be able to do anything to help.
It’s all incredibly hard on us sportswriters, too. Doing this may be my livelihood, sure, but to me, it’s more than just how I pay my bills and feed my family. I am fully invested in all of my kids’ careers. I love being able to tell their stories, to chronicle their achievements. And I’ve spent the past week hearing nothing but disappointment in their voices as I gathered their reactions. More than one choked up while talking to me over the phone. Some used language that I couldn’t print in my articles.
And all that rage, that sadness, that disappointment, is completely justified. Because this hurts them, and we’re all hurting for them.
But in the end, there’s just nothing anyone can do. People can scream at the OHSAA for “taking away opportunities from these kids,” but that’s not what happened. OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass’ mentions and replies on Twitter all week have been a nightmarish minefield of accusations and anger and pleading to find some way to make the tournaments happen. I’m pretty sure if you go through them all, you can find all five stages of grief — and more than a little bit of swearing.
But Snodgrass knows the stakes, know how hard the kids worked to get to where they are, and knows he’s done everything he could. His organization stands to lose a ton of money from missing these tournaments, and yet, when the tournament was to be held in front of limited fans in attendance, he was still planning on having the traditional massive pyrotechnics display during state wrestling’s parade of champions, burning what little money they would have made off of the limited ticket sales to ensure that the kids’ experience was at least somewhat close to what it should have been.
“This is emotional for everyone,” he said while closing out Thursday’s press conference. “This is our life, too. This is what we do every single day, is work for our kids. Everything is emotional, but it’s here (the virus). And we have to fight the war.”
And he’s absolutely right.
No matter how much it hurts.