On April 20, Gov. Mike DeWine made the decision to close all school facilities in the state for the duration of the 2019-20 academic year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association had stated if the governor made such a move, the OHSAA would cancel the spring sports season.
A few hours after DeWIne’s annoucement, the OHSAA made it official: The 2020 spring sports season was cancelled. It’s the first time in OHSAA history that it cancelled a season.
While the news was not unexpected, it’s impact on local student-athletes — particularly seniors the class of 2020 — has been profound.
Twinsburg athletic director Brian Fantone expressed the feelings of many of his colleagues when he noted feelings of powerlessness and sorrow about the cancellation.
"That’s why this is so hard. There are no words for what they’re going through right now," Fantone said. "There’s nothing I can say or do right now to to fix this. Being in a leadership position, I always want to try the situation, but there’s nothing I can really do.
"There’s quite a few kids, not only in Twinsburg, but around the country who are going through this," he added. "You have to make sure they have a voice for this. There’s so many emotions everyone is dealing with."
Aurora athletic director Paul Powers has held many leadership positions within the OHSAA over the years, including OHSAA Board President during the 2017-18 schools year. While he expressed sympathy for his student athletes, Powers said "There’s no way we’re second guessing any of this."
"Safety is the No.1 factor with all our student-athletes," Powers said. "Obviously it’s bigger than sports.
"We have to take a step back and do what’s best for the kids. Our leaders are making the best decisions for people across Ohio. It’s what they do every day. We’re going to follow their orders."
Nordonia’s Rob Eckenrode is another veteran athletic director, but he admits he’s been thrown a curveball by the pandemic.
"I’m finishing up my 20th year as a high school AD," Eckenrode said. "We’re a pretty resilient bunch, especially during spring sports, with all the weather delay. To have it all totally wiped out is something that I never expected.
"It was obviously the right thing to do. We wouldn’t want to infect anyone with this virus. I know that a lot of kids are disappointed though."
Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy athletic director Jon Young said he was holding out there would be a spring season until the news was official.
"I think we all kind of felt it coming," Young said. "I think for us, it was kind of a head vs. heart discussion. In my heart, I kept hoping there would be a Hail Mary of some sort, even if we saw how the news was going."
"It’s hard all the way around. My heart aches for the all the single-sport athletes who never got the chance to play this spring. There’s ho words to say for those guys."
Woodridge athletic director Nick Mayer notes the entire situation is tough not only on student-athletes, but on coaches and administrators as well.
"We just really feel bad for the kids," Mayer said. "Our kids have a limited time with us. With their finite time in high school, every moment matters.Our seniors aren’t going to have that last chance to be the senor leaders on the team."
"It’s just heartbreaking for them. It’s never going to stop hurting.
Stow-Munroe Falls athletic director Cyle Feldman noted he views athletics as a way to teach life lessons to student-athletes. He notes the current situation can be a teaching moment, but acknowledges the enormity of the pandemic
"You try to teach kids involved in athletics there are things you can learn," Feldman said. "Responding to adversity is a big life lesson. This has been difficult to respond to. It’s an awful lot to digest and accept."
"It breaks your heart to see the look on kids’ faces when you tell them things are cancelled. We’re doing our best to acknowledge the kdis."
Feldman notes its hard to shake the melancholy of the situtation, even in moments designed to express support for the student-athletes.
Like many high schools, Stow turned the lights on at the its stadiums for 20 minutes at 8:20 p.m. April 20 in support of the Class of 2020.
"We had about 75 cars in the parking lot," Feldman said. "I was waving to them from far away. While keeping our social distance, just being able to still talk to each other was good.
"I struggle with it, though because all the conversations are disappointments, and rightfully so. It’s just so somber. This time [of year] has always been an exciting time with things like prom and graduation coming up. It’s somber and not encouraging. I struggle and feel the pain of every one of our seniors."
"The Class of 2020 is going through things right now that our once-in-a-lifetime events," Fantone said. "I feel for those kids who have their senior year literally pulled out from underneath them. We have had historically a ton of success with our athletes in the spring."
Like many athletic directors, Fantone said he’s using social media to highlight his student-athletes. He is dedicating each day on his Twitter account to a new senior and honoring their accomplishments.
Mayer has been doing the same thing with all of his spring athletes on Twitter.
"We’ve been in enjoying highlighting our kids online, but that’s minimal to what they are losing," Mayer said. "With us being so tightly connected to the school day, it’s impossible for us do anything without the schools open. Our kids put so much time into what they do. It’s very disappointing."
Eckenrode notes Nordonia was primed for a solid season as well.
"We had some pretty strong teams this spring," Eckenrode said. "I feel bad for the seniors. They put in four years of hard work and come out to deal with this. We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation."
Young said he’s making sure that his coaches are staying in constant contact with their athletes, even from afar.
"We’re maybe a little bit unique at CVCA. We encourage our kids to be highly relational with their coaches," Young said. "I know our coaches are checking on kids, trying to keep their morale up. As a Christian school … we would look around and say God had a plan for all.
"We’re asking kids to lean into their relationship with Jesus. We believe a lot of growth can happen from adversity."
The next big question the athletic directors must deal with: What about the fall season?
While the OHSAA has yet to announce any guidelines regarding when — or if — fall sports will be played, all local athletic director are planning for fall.
"We’re all hoping that we get to the fall by Aug. 1," Feldman said. "We’re worried about that far ahead. We’ve already got our schedules set for the fall."
Powers said he’s been in communication with his fellow ADs about what may be next.
"We’ll be back to normal, but we’ll probably be dealing with a different normal," Powers said. "From the athletic side, there’s a lot of of unknowns. I have a group of 170 athletic directors. We had a video conference every Thursday at 11 a.m and we discuss these issues. These are uncharted waters for everyone."