For local wrestlers and their coaches, everything was set to go Thursday morning.
Final preparations had been made for the state tournament. Hotels were booked. Some wrestlers were even getting send-off parades through their schools.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
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.
While the OHSAA made it clear the tournament was suspended and not canceled, by 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.
Nordonia coach Jason Walter, who was due to head to Columbus to coach Knight junior Sal Perrine, summed up the mood of most in the wrestling community.
"Obviously, it was heartbreaking. Sal was devastated," Walters said. "I just never thought I’d see something like that. It hurts. It’s all these guys work for: This weekend."
Aurora had the largest contingent from the MyTownNEO.com coverage area 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."
Twinsburg’s Dave Mariola is the dean on local wrestling coaches and was looking to return to the state tournament by coaching Tiger junior Aidan Corrigan. The 36-year veteran said it never entered his mind that the tournament would be postponed.
"No thought whatsoever that that would take place," Mariola said. "I know the governor has to did what he had to do, but I think he may have jumped the gun a little."
Worse yet, Mariola said Corrigan was getting his send-off parade when the news came.
"We found out one minute before the parade started," Mariola said. "My athletic director came up to me. He says, ‘I don’t want to cancel the parade he’s earned. After the parade, my athletic director told him. AIdan, he took it pretty hard. The boy’s been wrestling since he was 6 years old.
"I’m bummed out too. Coaches deserve the opportunity to go down there," he added. "Aidan set school records this year that won’t be broken, at least while I’m alive. It sucks he’s not going to get to the state tournament."
Mariola’s son, Walsh Jesuit coach Dave Mariola Jr., was set to lead a trio of Warriors to the state tournament.
"What’s sad about it is you’ve got kids who are looking to win state championships and looking to become four-time state placers," Mariola Jr. said. "If you look at the big picture, though, this is a real state of emergency."
Tallmadge coach Jason Shaw, who was set to coach Blue Devil senior Jesse Kanatzar in Columbus, said the news on Thursday kept coming at him
"It’s one of those things that every 15 or 20 minutes, the updates got worse and worse," Shaw said. "Jesse wasn’t happy about it for obvious reasons. I don’t think Ive ever seen anything like this.
"You always hear about it happening in other places," he added. "You never think it’s going to hit home. Well, it’s hit home. I understand why they shut it down. At the same time, you’ve got these kids who have worked all year for this. They’re hanging by a thread here."
Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy coach Dave Bergen had two state qualifiers and summed up the entire situation as weird.
"I’ve never seen it in my lifetime," Bergen said. "This is beyond what I’ve ever imagined. We were going to work out in Ohio State’s room, but they said that we couldn’t do that.
"Nobody liked it," he added. "There’s a sense of loss. By the same token, I think we realize this is something that we’ve never dealt with."
The state wrestling tournament has never been canceled since its founding in 1938. With that said, most coaches seem to be cautiously pessimistic that the tournament will take place.
"I think it’s kind of wrong for them to leave it as suspended," Walters said. "I gave Sal a training regimen to follow. His brother is home from college, so they are going to go at it. It’s not the ideal thing.
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."
"I kind of doubt how in the world they can get a venue like Schottenstein Center again," Mariola said. "We’re not allowed to work out, period. The school is shut until further notice. I told [Corrigan] to watch your diet, just in case something does happen."
Shaw said Kanatzar is "going back old school" in terms of training on the chance the tournament does take place.
"There’s a whole lot of talk going on and not a lot of he answers. That’s what frustrating the most," Shaw said. "I told him to grab his brothers and start going at it. It’s tough right now. Everybody is in the same boat. It’s difficult but i can be done."
Mariola Jr. said he does not see the tournament happening, given that the number of restrictions that are increasing in public places.
Bergen agrees that it will be tough to restart the season the longer the restrictions are in place.
"Now is the hard part," Bergen said. "You have a no-contact rule. You have to work out on your own. It seems to be escalating. I would say, based on my own gut, the likelihood becomes less and less as time goes on."