The Ohio High School Athletic Association and its myriad districts have always put on great tournaments.
Whether it’s soccer, tennis, wrestling, or football, OHSAA events — especially those at the regional and state level — are top notch.
But Executive Director Doug Ute and his crew hit one onto Waveland Avenue in Chicago (sorry all, lifelong Cubs fan here) with the recently completed state basketball tournaments.
Faced with limits on crowd size and social distancing mandates, the much-anticipated events could have been a disaster. But the collective OHSAA was like former Buckeye standout Jim Jackson — to whom I refer as Mr. Clutch of college basketball — with the game on the line.
First, the OHSAA partnered with Hometown Ticketing to come up with a completely touchless, online ticket selling process using passcodes. Officials could control how many tickets were sold, and when it came to the state tournament, exactly where people were sitting. That was extremely important.
It created a little extra work for the athletic directors, but it prevented long lines of people trying to buy tickets in person. And it created smooth entry into the arena with no lines to get in.
Second, the venue selection was perfect. Unable to use St. John Arena in Columbus for the boys tournament due to the pandemic, the OHSAA received a variance from health officials in Dayton and Montgomery County to be able to host the state tournaments at the University of Dayton Arena. UD had been previously announced as the location of the girls state tournament in 2021, 2022, and 2023, but it took the aforementioned variance for it be a reality this year.
Despite a cap of 1,300 fans, the atmosphere inside UD Arena was tremendous. I was there for the Carroll-Napoleon girls Division-II state semifinal, won by Napoleon; the boys D-I semis where Centerville beat Mentor; and the D-I state title game where Centerville beat Westerville Central in an instant classic.
It felt like the arena was packed for the girls game. For the two boys games you could close your eyes and believe there were 13,000 people there, not 1,300. Part of that was because after having students throughout the arena in small pods for previous games, the title game had students behind the baskets — socially distant from the court and each other.
I mentioned to OHSAA communications guru Tim Stried that the boys and girls state tournaments should be held at UD every year. Nothing against the Schottenstein Center or St. John Arena. And I know it puts the northeast Ohio teams at a disadvantage because of travel.
But UD Arena has that “it” feeling. Even with 1,300 fans, I felt “it.”
Third, everything was done to prevent the games from turning into super-spreaders. OHSAA game officials were safely in a socially distant courtside bubble. Media was in the top few rows of the 100 section behind the benches, two to a table and six feet apart.
Photographers were off the floor, plopped down in the first row of seats behind the baskets.
I don’t know if this could have been accomplished at other arenas in Ohio. And I have to give the UD Arena staff and UD’s athletic communications department a shoutout.
Truth be told, I had my doubts that the season would be completed. And I had bigger doubts that the state tournament would have been run so smoothly despite the OHSAA’s track record. I thought there would be some type of hitch caused by COVID precautions and/or protocol.
But I’m glad I was wrong.
And I’m so happy the OHSAA was right.
The teams deserved it.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.