COLUMBUS — Everyone acted differently on Thursday. And everything felt different, too.
From the OHSAA credentialling official offering fist bumps instead of the usual welcome back handshakes, to journalism colleagues who, upon meeting up with their literary friends from other parts of the state, did the same, the Division II girls high school basketball state semifinal game between Carroll and Beloit West Branch was just that, different.
No pep bands.
No screaming fans.
All those typical nuances to an exciting postseason contest had been kept home at the very wise and difficult behest of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, in reaction to the ever spreading Coronavirus, COVID-19.
With the St. John Arena stands mostly empty, the atmosphere felt more like a routine practice being held a day or two before the big game. Just a smatttering of onlookers and not much else.
It felt almost as a disservice to the athletes that the usual fanfare, noise and excitement wasn’t there for them.
But it felt even worse when it was suddenly realized that a game wouldn’t be played at all.
With the game clock reading 15:59, the Carroll players trotted off the arena floor for what was initially thought (at least by the fans and media) to be a routine final team meeting in the lockerroom before the big game. But seconds later, an announcement was made over the public address system urging the 30-40 media members on hand to attend a press conference in the media conference room.
As the writers, reporters, photographers and videographers made their way up from courtside to the main-floor conference area, an announcement was also heard informing the few fans in attendance that the game had indeed been postponed.
As a journalist, the idea of a game being indefinitely postponed just seemed surreal. It was a unique situation where a very important game wouldn’t be played.
“Oh well, there’s always next year,” one scribe commented.
But that sentiment is not true if you’re a high school senior. For the seniors on those teams, their high school basketball careers had just ended without them even getting a chance to score a basket.
With one quick announcement, Carroll seniors Jill Roberts, Allie Stefanek and Julia Keller saw everything stop for them.
That same announcement brought the playing careers of West Branch seniors Carly Scarpitti, Sammie Tuel, Hannah Ridgeway, Maddie Showalter, Peyton Alazaus and Jessica Bock to an end as well.
Those players got to at least enjoy four minutes of a state tournament pre-game warmup on the St. John Arena floor. There are hundreds of other high school student athletes who didn’t even get that opportunity.
The players from Dresden Tri-Valley took to the arena court to shoot a few shots before they hopped on a bus and headed back to the Zanesville area. They never got to put their uniforms on, but at least they have that team memory.
There’s at least 630 state qualifying wrestlers, several hockey players and regional qualifying boys basketball players who won’t even get to enjoy a quick warmup before they can compete this weekend. That was all gone with one announcement.
And that announcement was a very valid one, and a noble one as well.
The OHSAA stands to lose more than $1 Million dollars by putting a halt to the state and regional postseason events, but every dollar of it will be worth it, when it saves somebody’s life.
COVID-19, aka the coronavirus, may have ended the winter postseason dreams of many, and it’s yet to be seen whether the virus will put an end to Spring Sports as well. But it won’t end the desires and dreams of the student athlete.
Here’s hoping that the cancellation of a sporting event doesn’t affect the drive and desires of these senior athletes and their coaches. Their hard work and incredible talents in sports will always be appreciated.
To each of you, thank you. Us fans and journalists look forward to hearing about your ‘next years’ on and off the playing field for many years to come!