Grapplers in hiatus

The state wrestling tournament was already slated to be a little different this year.

Instead of the familiar Thursday through Saturday schedule, the Ohio High School Athletic Association last spring announced this year’s event would run Friday through Sunday.

Then last Wednesday, due to the coronavirus, the OHSAA limited tickets to just four family members of each athlete and two family members of each coach.

One day later, the OHSAA postponed all remaining winter sports tournaments and all spring sports.

The delay is supposed to last at least three weeks. When, if at all, events actually resume is unknown.

“Kind of being in limbo is kind of where we’re at,” Carey wrestling coach Ryan Pratt said.

“Not knowing is the hard part,” Columbian wrestling coach Travis Salyer said.

“I’m kind of almost speechless over it. I wish I had more answers for the kids and things like that because they’re still asking questions,” Salyer said when contacted Friday. “I wish we were talking about how we’ve got three guys in the quarterfinals. That would be a lot better conversation going into Saturday.

“There’s that original little gut punch on the guys. With the way the media is, they knew right away so they’re asking me a bunch of questions,” he said. “I don’t have the answers, other than at this point we aren’t going to be wrestling at this point.”

Along with Gov. Mike DeWine closing schools for three weeks and canceling gatherings of 100 or more people in the state, the OHSAA on Friday somewhat clarified what’s going on saying, there is “a mandatory no-contact period for all school-sponsored sports March 17-April 5, 2020. Additionally, there will be a mandatory shut down of facilities used for the purpose of conducting athletics activities from March 17-April 5, 2020.”

In other words, athletes wanting to stay in shape in case the tournaments are merely delayed instead of ultimately canceled can do so, but only on their own. No school weight rooms, gyms or equipment, and no contact of any kind with their coaches until April 5.

“That’s difficult because as a coach, not only do we prepare our wrestlers physically, we prepare them mentally, and this has taken a lot of toll on the mental aspect of all the sports affected, from the pro to collegiate to us,” Pratt said.

“It’ll be unfortunate if it does get canceled, but we’ve talked about that,” he said. “Right now the state’s saying postponed, so we’ve got our hopes up and we’re kind of hoping for an Easter weekend state tournament.”

And Pratt said he understands why the OHSAA and Gov. DeWine did what they did. They had to look at a much bigger picture and make a difficult choice.

“It’s tough for me to assess the severity of the situation because everything’s been fine in our little town of Carey. But obviously there are things out there that are bigger, that are greater than this,” he said. “Maybe we don’t understand right now, but there’s a lot of life after this, too, if it does end up canceling.

“Honestly, I’m not angry, I’m not angry at all. I’m just a positive person. I always hated the saying ‘Everything happens for a reason’ but I think things do happen and it’s how we react to it that sets the tone on who we are as people,” he said. “There’s so much negativity out there and joking about coronavirus. Well, I tell you what, if Tiffin got it or a nursing home in Carey or Upper Sandusky or Findlay got it and 70 or 80 people were killed or died from it, our attitude would definitely change.

“So I just think that the way we react to it and our personal feelings, we need to stay positive through the whole thing,” Pratt said. “There are worse things in life that could happen.”

And for many, there is at least next year.

That includes Columbian, whose three state qualifiers include two sophomores and a freshman.

“Honestly, it’s just an unfortunate situation for everybody — not just wrestling by itself, but other sports as well. I just know that my guys put a lot of work in and had some high goals for this weekend,” Salyer said. “Been a long season shooting for the end goal. To have it postponed, it’s heartbreaking for the guys who put the work in here that I’ve watched all year, and for the other people in the state, and for the seniors especially.

“We don’t have any (state-qualifying) seniors on our team so I don’t have to deal with that personally, but there are seniors all over the place that may not get their last chance,” he said. “I understand why it happened, it’s just … pretty crazy with what’s going on over the next three weeks. It’s pretty hard to have a word for it.”

Pratt did have a senior make it, and one who did so with a bit school history. Tanner May, a state runner-up last year, is the first Blue Devil in school history to qualify state four times and was primed to also be the first to place four times.

That last bit is now in jeopardy, although Pratt hopes May will ultimately get his chance.

But even if that doesn’t come to pass, Pratt said he knows the result is just one more life lesson learned through wrestling.

“Stuff does happen, there are things that do happen that kind of put a damper on life, so to speak, but it’s not the end of life,” Pratt said. “The kid’s got a bright future after high school, he’s going to be just fine. We’ll get past this, he’ll get past this.”