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 dual degrees in music from Ohio State University.

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The only negative to last weekend’s volleyball tournament in Vandalia was that no local teams won.  The obvious positive was…you don’t need 13,000 seats and rude ushers to stage a state tournament.

Some take-aways from this past weekend’s OHSAA state volleyball tournament hosted by Vandalia Butler High School and Athletic Director Jordan Shumaker.

First, a tip of the cap to Shumaker, who in a day of lip service and empty quotes about how much we’re doing for the sake of kids…really understands that sometimes the best thing you can do is simply dumb it down and just let them play.  Young, energetic, and engaging, Shumaker made it a point to welcome people to BHS and their beautiful Student Activity Center, and not remind them that it was hallowed ground…or please don’t ask for anything.  I needed an extension cord, and he fixed me up – in two minutes, flat.

And the people who staffed the event, from concessions to school personnel there to help direct traffic, couldn’t have been nicer or more patient.

But more, Shumaker is one of those who realizes that the future of OHSAA tournaments is not that of spacious stadiums and arenas that sit three-quarters empty and get ignored by the Columbus media.  He gets it that it has to be a collaboration between OHSAA members, administration, and that both parties need to get something out of it, even if it’s on a smaller scale.

“We gave them the SAC (Student Activity Center) rent-free,”  said Shumaker.  “Saved them at least $5,000, and we got the parking money and the concessions.”

That and some valuable local exposure.

What the OHSAA got was an event with enough people sitting in the 5,000 seats of the SAC to present a representative appreciation for one of their marquee fall events.  Volleyball, in deference to football, is growing in participation and popularity among student athletes, and the quality of play this weekend was unmistakable.  What would have been mistakable…would have been had it occurred before an empty house.

But budget trimming was in clear evidence, that and the constant fear mongering from the Ohio Department of Health about mask wearing and social distancing.  One person said this about the endless public address announcements:  “It’s like telling someone that ice cream is delicious, but of course it causes diabetes and heart disease.”

Another administrator from a local school added this:  “Jerry Snodgrass would have loved this – showcasing volleyball and a member school facility in a cooperative manner where kids, the OHSAA, and the school were all highlighted.”  Snodgrass is the deposed Executive Director of the OHSAA, removed from office back in July over differences with the Board of Control.  A former teacher, coach, and athletic director at Findlay High School, the popular Snodgrass was a very public figure of hard work and grass roots administration.

And indeed, the Ohio High School Athletic Association must have taken – or should have taken – something away from the weekend’s event.  That being, you really can do more with less…as long as you let people know what you’re doing.  One complaint heard was that not enough people knew about the shift in venue (from the Nutter Center to Butler High School)…and from coaches (current and former) that OHSAA tournaments deserve at least an updated marketing effort to better compete with alternative entertainment options, even with streaming the games on the internet!

And then Covid…and the question of restricted ticket sales for both the tournament and future sports (like basketball).  And how will future tournaments (for the winter sports) be affected?  And can member schools whose athletic budgets rely on full houses for both football and basketball survive come spring and the 2021 school year…if they’re not allowed to sell basketball tickets, starting later this month?

The OHSAA’s hands are tied on the matter, as the governing body acts in compliance with the Department of Health and Mike DeWine.  But many are aware of the threat, especially to the smaller Division IV schools in the southern tier of the state where basketball is both king, and the money maker because boys and girls both play, and both have eleven home games.  In comparison, football has just five.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a problem for some schools,”  Jackson Center basketball coach and athletic director Scott Elchert said recently.  Jackson Center, itself, is a small Division IV school and member of the Shelby County League that doesn’t play football.

“Fortunately, our current budget is such that we could survive one season without ticket sales, but I don’t know about more than one season,”  he added.

So, such was the 2020 volleyball tournament, and the state of the ‘union’…so to speak.  And such was the example of Jordan Shumaker and Butler High School in joining forces with the OHSAA to make it happen sensibly, comfortably…and for the sake of the kids.

And I’m pretty sure that at least on Sunday someone made a few dollars, even with restricted ticket sales.  Announced officially that only 600 would be allowed in to view each match…it looked like a lot more than 600 saw the New Bremen-Tiffen Calvert match.

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