Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

CONTACT

He’ll step down as commissioner of the OHSAA later this year,  for reasons of personal interest, and health. But Dan Ross wants it understood…that the work is far from being finished; nor is he.

Columbus – Understand as you read this, that my time with OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross last week is to be characterized as a conversation, and not an interview.

I say that because we have that kind of relationship, and have since the inception of Press Pros back in summer of 2010.  New in his position as commissioner back then he was one of the few at that time who viewed our dream of web coverage of high school sports as being relevant, as others scoffed.

“You’ve always been relevant with me,” he said during our visit in the back hallways of the Schottenstein Center. “You were then, and you are now. What you do is important, and your energy is remarkable,” he added with a smile.

Ross will step down from his position later this year due largely to his health issues. He’s on the waiting list for a heart transplant…and the stories he tells of that wait are in one word ‘chilling’, and in another, inspiring. The search for his successor is currently on.

In his ninth year as commissioner, Ross has stood on every rung of the ladder in high school sports…as an educator, coach, official, and administrator. A native of Portsmouth, Ohio, he’s unique in that he’s experienced every level of both educational challenge, and the socio-economic issues that determine the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ across the landscape of Ohio school sports.

He has a way – an easy way – with people. He prides himself on being a good listener, and he knows no strangers. Every patron of an OHSAA event has an open door with Ross, from the disgruntled fan over the price of a ticket…to the average student athlete who finds that the commissioner really is interested in his or her story.

His journey as commissioner has not been a smooth road, by any means. There have been potholes, a reflection of the dynamics that dictate everything in modern culture. Forced to adapt, because there is no alternative, Ross has been labeled by some…a politician. He would dispute that, of course.  Or maybe not, as effective people in his position are most often effective ‘compromisers’.  And there are…so MANY issues!

The issues are as individual as people themselves, from the cost of athletics, including the price of a ticket to this week’s state basketball tournament…to the constant discussion over ‘recruiting’, ‘privates’ versus ‘public’ schools, sportsmanship and character, and of course, the bitterness among so many over what seems to be Ross’s signature endeavor – competitive balance.

Ask him about any of the above, or, if competitive balance is indeed the one initiative that will define his tenure as chief administrator and he reflects on that notion.

While stepping down as commissioner, Ross admits, “I’d like to come back in some capacity and serve – to help things move in a positive direction.”

“You know,” he says quietly, “I’d like to be known as a good person, a good man, a good husband, and a good father. I’d like to be remembered as someone who was truly concerned about what’s best for kids.

“As far as being known for any one thing that I’ve done as commissioner, I’d like to be remembered for my interest in bringing more inclusion and diversity of Ohio High School athletics – from our own staffing at the OHSAA, to more women in officiating…because I believe that it better reflects our modern culture.”

But as to the obvious dissatisfaction over ‘competitive balance’ (at least when you ask behind closed doors and off the record), Ross responds.

“It’s a start, but it’s not perfect,” he says. “There’s more work to be done, and some of the challenge comes from downtown, and the legislators.  I had one tell me recently, ‘Here’s what we want.  Now you take it and fix it.'”

Another concern over the future of sports is purely financial, and not just the administrative budget, even though he’ll be remembered for ushering in lucrative broadcast contracts with Time Warner (now Spectrum) and Sports Time Ohio for the OHSAA championship tournament weekends.

“If attendance is down you have to find alternative sources of income,”  he once told me.

But for the present – how more kids can afford to just participate? It’s not cheap to play football, hockey (skates cost a fortune), baseball (a good glove costs $200, and a bat $400), or to play travel sports in the off-season.  Pay to play is not the answer, and he understands reality…that if you want a shot at playing at a high competitive level you have to play year-round;  and too many kids simply can’t afford that.

“It’s a problem,” admits Ross, agreeing that there are no obvious answers.  “And I’m concerned that the ability to participate will become an even bigger divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.

His daily life, though still busy in the waning days of his service as commissioner, is not unlike that of playing Russian roulette as he waits for the call that a new heart is available- that it’s his turn for the ultimate in life alterations.

“It may come today, or tonight, or tomorrow,”  he says with a contented smile.  “Or, it may never come.  It’s in the hands of the good Lord, and His purpose.”

But if it his His purpose that the call comes and Ross is able to go forward, he’ll tell you that he’s far from through.  His philosophies are current, and he still has some things on his agenda.

“This is a position that probably needs new perspective every five years, but I’d like to come back in some capacity and serve – to help things move in a positive direction,”  he said, extending his hand.  He got up to leave from our conversation, not as a man who’s been dealt a bad hand – a bad break with his health – but as one who’s been privileged to serve as teacher, coach, principal, superintendent, and now commissioner of one of the nation’s most respected high school administrations.

You wish him the best, because despite your feelings over what he’s accomplished, Dan Ross may have a tired heart…but not tired spirit, or agenda.  He’ll be remembered as one of the most influential figures in the history of Ohio high school sports.

I wish him well, because he has this way of making people feel…relevant.

Always has, always will…Lord willing!

Share