Ohio high school track and field season never gets out of starting blocks


By Mark Altstaetter - sports@limanews.com



It seemed inevitable.

But for most people, it was something they did not want to hear.

When the Ohio High School Athletic Association finally made it official Tuesday and canceled the high school spring sports season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, area track-and-field athletes and coaches had to face the harsh reality.

OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass officially made the announcement Tuesday. On Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that school facilities will remain closed for the remainder of the school year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the middle of March, when spring sports had more than three weeks of practice in the books, OHSAA postponed the spring sports season for at least two weeks. By the end of March, OHSAA had pushed the kickoff of the spring campaign to early May, before officially canceling the rest of the season Tuesday.

Now, with the spring season officially canceled, coaches will have to close the door on the 2020 campaign.

For Elida boys head track-and-field coach Tim Folger, the cancellation of the track season is disappointing for several reasons.

Not only does it mean the seniors will be unable to close out their high school track-and-field careers, but Folger will end his tenure as the head coach at Elida a little sooner than originally planned.

Folger, a middle school math teacher, will be leaving Elida and will be enrolled in a Doctoral Fellowship at Bowling Green State University in the fall, pursuing a Doctor of Education degree in Leadership Studies.

“Obviously, that makes it much more of a heartbreak for me,” Folger said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate the past few years to get our track program in a really strong place at the WBLs (Western Buckeye League Championships), getting athletes to the state meet and performing really well. With it being my last season, I was fully committed to leaving this program in the strongest possible position, moving forward.”

Folger was in his fourth year of coaching at the varsity level. He also was a middle school football coach for six years at Elida.

Folger really feels for his athletes, who were poised to compete this spring.

“It’s heart-breaking and disappointing for the whole team,” Folger said. “As a team, you start seeing what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, and you get excited about the upcoming season. But your heart breaks mostly for the seniors, because most of the kids are going to get another shot at it. For the seniors, some of them have been working at this for four years; and you want to see them go out on a positive note.”

Elida girls head track coach Trisha Smith echoes Folgers’ sentiments.

“We have four seniors. It’s sad, because three of them I coached in middle school. So, it’s very disappointing,” Smith said. “You know they’re going to be disappointed, which is going to make you disappointed. This year is my second year (as the girls head coach), so I thought I really had built a good relationship with the kids. We had small numbers this year, but they were working really hard, and they were like family, a close-knit group of kids.”

Back in March, when OHSAA first postponed the spring season, Folger did not get discouraged, at least early on.

“When we first delayed, I was still pretty optimistic that we were going to make it back,” Folger said. “But as time went on and you heard what was coming from the state government and federal government, it quickly became pretty clear that it was going to be unlikely that we make it back (to resume the season).”

Lima Senior girls head coach Emmanuel Curtis was hopeful up until recently.

“My girls were holding out hope, and I was as well,” Curtis said. “We’re only about a week out from OHSAA putting out the (tentative) spring schedule, and everyone was getting excited. Then, (COVID-19) cases picked up around here. So, once that happened more, locally, I knew it was going to be a stretch.”

Curtis’ squad was coming off a strong indoor track season this past winter, and the expectations were high for this coming spring.

“The tough part was that we finally created an identity, pretty much at the past indoor state track championships,” Curtis said. “We knew what our returners had to offer, but we also had some kids step up who hadn’t been major contributors yet. We increased every place from our pre-seed place to our final seeding (at the state indoor meet), and we medaled in four out of five events. It was a great indoor state meet for us, and we got a lot of buzz from coaches around the state.

“We were solid, coming into the spring season. Outside of our one senior, we had 12 freshmen. It’s been a while since we had double-digit freshmen, and only one of those competed indoor. So, we had 11 other girls who had a great opportunity to contribute to our team.”

Curtis said it feels strange not having a spring season to look forward to.

“This is the first time for me without track and field, since I was a kid,” he said. “For some of our girls, it’s their identity. … It’s who they are. Some of them are track girls all year round. It’s just highly unfortunate, and we’re still trying to make sense of it all.”

The lone senior for the Lima Senior girls team is India Benton, who will compete in track at Indiana University-East next school year.

Ottawa-Glandorf boys head track coach Brian Heebsh knew the original postponement in March wasn’t a good sign of things to come.

“I’m a science teacher, so I’ve been looking at it pretty closely. When they first canceled school, like March 17th or whenever, I thought there’s like an 80 percent chance that we’re shutting down for the year,” Heebsh said.

Heebsh, who also is a longtime defensive coordinator for the O-G football team, understands there is more to life than just competing in sports.

“I just sent out a post on Schoology (website) today (to his track athletes),” Heebsh said. “I said, ‘This (track season), unfortunately, has been taken away from you.‘

“But I tried to parallel this with life, because one of the reasons we coach is that we know that long term, sports teaches life lessons. This is a lesson in life: That sometimes life is not fair.”

Heebsh has six seniors on his boys team, including his son Eric.

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By Mark Altstaetter

sports@limanews.com

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

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