Since 1938, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has always hosted a state wrestling tournament
As of Thursday, however, the tournament has been thrown into limbo.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ohio High School Athletic Association Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass announced the state wrestling tournament, along with all other winter sports tournaments, were suspended.
That decision was followed Friday a no-contact period from March 17 to April 5 was announced for all coaches, along with ban on any events in high school facilities
For the 19 Portage County wrestlers who qualified for states, this was the mother of all curveballs.
Rootstown coach Craig Wise was set to lead four Rovers down to Columbus. He acknowledged this is an unprecedented situation.
"Honestly, this is something for which is there is no playbook," Wise said. "We talk about how wrestling gives life lessons. This is lesson within itself."
Unlike many coaches who also are educators, Wise runs a mortgage company and therefore has not had his workplace shut down, as school have been till April 5. However, he is aware how much the pandemic is disrupting school and life.
"It’s a shock to everybody for sure," Wise said. "Everybody is hanging in there. We’re down to the simple things in life."
Aurora had the largest contingent from Portage County heading south, as coach Johnny Papesh and the Greenmen had designs on another run at the Division II state title.
"We found out about an hour before we were set to head down," Papesh said. "You let them know you love them and that you’re there for them.
"They’re hurting and, as a coach, I can’t even say I know what it feels like," Papesh added. "We were trying to take home the championship. I was hoping to have six kids in the semis, and who knows what can happen from there. I know what I demand from them. Not to have that payday out of their control kind of sucks."
For seniors like Crestwood two-time All-Ohioan Brett Szuhay, the suspension was particularly heartbreaking, as this was their last opportunity to wrestle at states.
"We were planning on having a workout Thursday before we left for Columbus," said Crestwood coach Dave Wrobel. As expected, he was quite emotional and quite upset. He would never have that opportunity to get on top of the podium.
"Being a senior, your heart goes out to him. Here’s a kid that did everything the right way. He rehabbed his knee to get back to where he was at. He won the sectional and district titles for the third straight year and felt really good about Columbus. To have that pulled out from underneath him, he wasn’t happy at all that first day."
Garfield coach Dan Andel was set to lead three G-Men to the Division III tournament, which is the most state qualifiers Garfield has had in years.
"I know we as a team celebrated the bad news by going out to Texas Roadhouse together," Andel said. "It’s tough because Connor [Hrubik] and Noah [Hoffmann] are both seniors and this was the first time Connor got down there. It’s tough news to swallow."
Mogadore coach Duane Funk was already on his way to Columbus with his two wrestlers when word came down, as he planned to have his boys practice at New Lexington High School the day before the tournament.
"I was in Zanesville when we found out and we had to turn around," Funk said. "You’ve just got to take it day by day at this point. Hopefully this season is not over. I do feel very sad for all seniors in all sports."
OHSAA commissioner Jerry Snodgrass is set to hold a press conference Thursday concerning the future of the OHSAA tournaments. While most coaches are holding out hope, there’s not much optimism that the state tournament will take place.
"I would highly doubt it. Logistically, its going to take a lot to get the tournament back up," Wise said. "With the no-contact thing, I’ve told my guys ‘You’ve got to get ready for next year.’ There’s no guarantee either way. You’ve got workout on your own the best you can."
Papesh said he has no training regimen set for his team as his primary concern is his team’s safety.
"I’m telling them to stay home and not get any germs," Papesh said. "Maybe it’s postponed; maybe it’s canceled. We don’t want to risk spreading the virus. You can’t risk that."
Wrobel notes its will be tougher for wrestling to come back quickly, because of the specific demands of the sport.
"Each day you’re away from the sport, your conditioning, your timing, your technique all fade away," Wrobel said. "The kids aren’t going to be there in wrestling shape. I think wrestling is such a unique sport. There’s so much to deal with.
"They need their workouts to keep most of their sharpness," Wrobel added. "I just don’t see how we could have such a layoff and expect the kids to come back. I’m thinking its not likely to happen."
Andel remains the most optimistic that the tournament will take place.
"I don’t think the reality has set in just yet," Andel said. "We’re just kind of sitting on the edge of our chairs waiting for the next update. We’re still remaining optimistic that there will be something happening."
"It’s frustrating," Andel added. "That’s a tough way to halt the season. I think the decisions made were out of our control. We’re just trying to stay positive."
Funk said there’s not much his wrestlers can do, other than prepare as if the tournament will still happen.
"Circumstances are beyond our control at this point," Funk said. "I’ve told them to be prepared. It will be interesting to see what happens."