Teams and athletes ready to move forward after finding out they will have few fans in the stands for their biggest games of the year.

COLUMBUS The thought of competing in nearly empty arenas does not thrill high school head coaches preparing for the biggest events of their season.


But they’re moving on and making sure their athletes are ready for state and regional competition this week with nothing beyond immediate family, some media and arena staff on hand for the events.


The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday afternoon it is limiting spectators for its state and regional tournament games.


"It's not going to change anything we're doing," said Wadsworth wrestling coach Clay Wenger, whose team is one of the best in the state in Division I. "We're coming ready to wrestle, we're coming ready to go.


"But yeah, these kids want to wrestle in front of a crowd. I mean, this is the biggest show you get in Ohio. Yeah we want to wrestle in front of a crowd, but no, it isn't going to stop us from coming ready to compete."


The state wrestling tournament opens Friday in Columbus at Value City Arena. The state girls basketball tournament, which includes GlenOak and West Branch, runs Thursday through Saturday at St. John Arena in Columbus. The state ice hockey tournament is this weekend at Nationwide Arena.


"It's a shame for these kids, especially the seniors," Perry wrestling coach Brent McBurney said. "Some of these pivotal matches, where you don't have a clear-cut guy, the crowd does play a big factor. Walking out of the tunnel for the first time to a big crowd and whistles blowing, that impacts kids."


Various sites throughout the state — including Memorial Field House, Memorial Civic Center in Canton, and Cleveland State University — are hosting boys basketball regional games that include the likes of Canton McKinley, St. Vincent-St. Mary and Medina.


St. V-M plays a Division II regional semifinal game Thursday night at Canton Memorial Civic Center. Irish head coach Dru Joyce II understands that people are concerned, but thought this move wasn't necessary just yet.


"Honestly, my opinion is that we have created a hysteria," Joyce said. "That is just my opinion. Everything I have heard indicates that more people die from the flu. I get it that the issue with this is the unknown and that there is no cure, and with the flu we have some idea of what it is, but bottom line is more people still die from the flu."


Joyce said limiting spectators for upcoming tournament basketball games would change the atmosphere.


"If that is how we have to play, then that is how we have to play," Joyce said. "It's more for the kids and I don't want to take this away from the kids. If you take an opportunity away (to go or to play in a tournament game), these opportunities might never come back for the kids."


The OHSAA made the move to limit spectators in response to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine asking Tuesday afternoon that all indoor sporting events in the state, including high school, collegiate and professional sports, continue without most spectators in attendance. Ohio is trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.


To be clear: I do recommend that the media be among those permitted to attend sporting events. https://t.co/zSSQL7Fy7s

— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) March 10, 2020

"This will be a very difficult time for our schools and fans, but we cannot ignore the directive of the Governor," OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass said in a statement released by the organization Tuesday afternoon.


The decision after Snodgrass consulted with the governor, as well as Paolo DeMario, Ohio's Superintendent of Public Instruction.



Snodgrass held a press conference later in the day and had limited firm details on how this will be handled. He did say boys basketball regionals scheduled for Tuesday would proceed as originally planned, but all events in the near future — including next week's state boys basketball tournament — will be altered.


The OHSAA announced later Tuesday evening that all previously purchased tickets for state tournaments in wrestling, ice hockey and girls and boys basketball are now void. New tickets will be sold per the instructions per sport — just four family members of each participant are allowed to buy a ticket to an event.


Outside of those spectators, the only others allowed into the arena will be the participants and coaches, as well as accredited media and other personnel deemed to be essential for the event.


McKinley boys basketball coach Andy Vlajkovich, whose team plays Shaker Heights on Wednesday at Cleveland State, is worried that the ticket limit could create problems.


"What I’m afraid of for the kids is they might be put in the middle of trying to choose four family members and worrying about which family members can’t go," Vlajkovich said. "I told them, 'If there are any issues, have them call me. I need your 100 percent concentration and focus on Shaker Heights and I need your 100 percent concentration and focus on the task at hand. We can’t get caught up in things we have no control of.'"


Medina boys basketball coach Chris Hassinger said he is "waiting for the final solution" regarding Wednesday's doubleheader at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center where his Bees play Mentor.


"You want everybody to be safe, but it is disappointing for the kids obviously because it is a big moment for them," Hassinger said. "You are glad that they are taking safety precautions, but on the other hand you are sad for the kids with losing out on such a big moment.


". . . Everything is such a unknown because nothing like this has happened in our lifetime."


Some schools participating in the girls state tournament already announced refund plans for tickets sold to individuals, in part because those 16 schools were included on a conference call shortly after DeWine asked that all amateur and pro indoor sporting events in Ohio continue without most spectators. New tickets were expected to be distributed to the necessary individuals, although the exact plans remain fluid, especially for the state wrestling tournament.


Snodgrass said playing at various sites makes the situation more complicated.


"Our staff is really going to be taxed on this," he said. "Part of the complication lies in the fact that, right now, we are dealing with two different venues for our state tournaments. We also have 16 different regionals going on in boys basketball right now. That same recommendation for this, the same outcome of this, is going to be affecting those regional sites as well. Each site has different ticketing methods they're using."


West Branch is scheduled to open the girls basketball state tournament at 1 p.m., Thursday, against Dayton Carroll in a Division II semifinal, while GlenOak plays Newark at 6 p.m., Friday, in a Division I semifinal. Both games will be played at 13,276-seat St. John Arena.


The state wrestling tournament at the nearby 18,809-seat Value City Arena has traditionally drawn more than 10,000 fans in each of its five sessions over three days. If the limit of four tickets were put in place, that would come out to 2,668 per session if one took 16 wrestlers per weight class and 14 weight classes in each of the three divisions.


"OK, if we're in a small venue, 3,000 people in the Civic Center, that's a big deal," McBurney said. "But, not in the Schottenstein Center, where it's going to be huge. You're so distanced the way it is."


Snodgrass said the OHSAA discussed postponing the boys basketball tournament but decided to continue because there’s so much uncertainty about the virus’ future progress.


Snodgrass said plans are being made to set up live feeds for those who could not attend any of the state-level events. Spectrum has exclusive live-broadcast rights to all OHSAA championships.


"We're in the process of doing that," said Snodgrass, who also didn't have firm plans yet for what other media would be permitted in the buildings. "We have staff working in that area to make sure that those who can't attend will have an opportunity to see it. I'm pretty confident in that."