Coronavirus concerns change things at this year’s meet

Being at state is nothing new for some, but there will be new experiences for everyone this year.

At least those who are there.

A planned shift in schedule wound up coupled with a recent severe reduction in allowed attendance after the Ohio High School Athletic Association had to scramble earlier this week in the wake of the COVID-19, or coronavirus, threat.

First the schedule.

The OHSAA announced last April that this year’s state wrestling tournament would change from a Thursday through Saturday event to a Friday through Sunday gathering.

“That’s weird,” Carey coach Ryan Pratt said.

Plans call for the championship matches to run 5-9:15 p.m. Sunday.

When announcing the change last spring, OHSAA officials said it would mean less work and school time would be missed by those attending the tournament while easing logistical and parking issues in and around the Schottenstein Center.

There may not be need to worry about that this year.

According to the OHSAA, the tournament has averaged more than 54,000 fans over its three-day run during the past three years, which includes more than 11,000 fans for the semifinal and championship sessions.

Far fewer fans will see witness the tournament first hand this year.

Due to the coronavirus, the OHSAA limited tickets to just four family members of each athlete and two family members of each coach.

“I did the math,” Pratt said. “Of all the wrestlers wrestling at the OHSAA tournament this weekend, there’s only going to be twenty-six hundred and eighty-eight spectators for the wrestlers. … (T)hat’s not counting coaches.

“We’re used to walking out, seeing ten, eleven, twelve, fifteen thousand people in the Schottenstein, and we’re going to see less than 3,000, probably. For (Carey wrestler Tanner May), he’s been there before, but for a new kid, they’re going to walk in and go, ‘Oh, my God, this place is empty.'”

Mohawk coach Nate Lofay said this weekend’s state atmosphere will definitely be different than in the past.

He doesn’t think it will affect state veteran Morgan Price (152 pounds), but he’s not sure how state rookie James Clouse (220 pounds) will react.

“I take a lot of time thinking about how to handle each individual kid we take down there. I don’t know what to expect this year because it’s all new to everybody,” Lofay said.

“With James being down there for the first time … I don’t know how to explain to him what it’s going to be like when you go out there in that tunnel and there’s nobody out there,” he said. “It’s almost like I have to go down there (in the tunnel) with Morgan and kind of see what the atmosphere’s like and then go back and just kind of prepare him for that and (have Clouse) realize it’s just a match.”

Focusing on the sameness might be the best way to go.

Pratt said some things remain the same no matter how many fans attend or how big the arena.

“We’ve been there and we talked about (how) the mat’s the same size, coaches are still the same, table workers, referees — all that’s going to be the same,” he said. “So as far as being on the mat and wrestling, it’s going to be the same, except for the roar of the crowd.

“You’ve got 70, 80, 90 Carey fans rooting for him at state, we hear that, we can hear people yell out his name. We can hear when he gets a takedown, the crowd erupts,” Pratt said. “That’s not going to happen this year, it’s going to be very minimal. We’re going to have, like, six people watching him.”

Of course, it could have been much different, according to Lakota coach Rob Timmons.

“We’re thankful they’re still going to have it with everything going on. Sometimes you focus just on wrestling in your life when you’re a wrestling coach or a wrestler, but there’s other stuff going on in the world besides wrestling and we’re appreciative that they’re going to allow some family members and coaches to be there,” he said. “They could have went the opposite way and everybody would’ve been done.

“Whatever they do, some people are not going to like it. It’s like voting,” Timmons said with a laugh. “But at the end of the day I think they probably tried to make the best decision they could under the circumstances they’re under.”

Still, Lofay said he’s not in favor of this year’s attendance policy.

A little common sense among fans about whether or not to attend would have gone a long way, he reasoned.

“We all know what’s going on with it. Everybody knows. You know what? Open the doors. If you’ve got (nerve) enough to walk in there, that’s on you, then, at that point. I’m just a little bit different, I guess how it is. It’s sad how it’s going to go. I did hear we’re going to get some live streaming out of it, so that’s pretty awesome, I guess,” he said.

“We’ll see how it is. I think there’s going to be riots outside, they’re going to have to let them in,” Lofay said with a laugh.

And while he’s not in favor of keeping the crowd size small, Lofay said he’s more upset about the tournament moving to a Friday through Sunday format this year.

“That Sunday night’s going to be rough,” he said.