Four months from now, on the 20th anniversary (Aug. 1) of his start as commissioner of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Clair Muscaro will retire from his post.
During his reign, high school sports in Ohio and elsewhere have transformed from simpler times into a more chaotic setting.
It is an era where coaching burnout, pay-to-play athletic programs, widespread transferring of players, internet trash talk and lawsuits against schools and the OHSAA have become all too commonplace.
Through it all, Muscaro, 71, feels he is exiting after making positive strides for Ohio s student-athletes and, most importantly to him, with a clear conscience believing that he has maintained his fundamental quest for “ethics and integrity.”
Muscaro was in Toledo yesterday as a guest of the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, which held an athletics hall-of-fame induction at Inverness Club.
A little over a year ago Muscaro s name found a national sports audience when he ruled against basketball phenom LeBron James, suspending the Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School star for the remainder of his senior season for accepting two “throwback” jerseys from a Cleveland-area retail store.
Although legal action by James attorney ultimately led to a court action that reduced the suspension to two games, enabling the 6-8 wunderkind to lead his team to a third state title in four seasons, Muscaro stands by his decision.
“I have always believed in doing what is right,” Muscaro said. “In this particular case I had documentation there was a violation of our bylaws. Whether it s rich, poor, thin, fat, indifferent or whatever, treat everybody the same. That was a violation of our bylaws and I acted accordingly. I was fair and consistent. We did what we had to do.
“When I came to work on [the following] Monday I had about 300 emails, and probably close to 3-to-1 were really hammering me and calling me every name you could imagine. But I also had support from a lot of people.”
Muscaro sees today s prep sports scene as much more complex, with players who are bigger, stronger and possessing a higher skill level. But other forms of evolution disturb him.
“What s disappointing from when I started until now is that, when we talk about student-athletes now, in too many households we have dropped the word student, ” Muscaro said. “In too many households, athletics are No. 1 rather than the educational program. That bothers me very much.”
Another problem is reduced funding for athletics which has forced a pay-to-play situation at many schools.
“I m extremely disappointed that it s coming to that,” he said. “We may have 25 percent of our schools facing that.
“In our efforts to build good citizens with the values you get from participating, we may miss some kids, and that s tragic.”
What is the solution?
“It s too big for me,” Muscaro admitted. “I don t know where the answer lies. I think it s something legislators need to address.”
The outgoing commissioner feels that the primary objective of high school athletics may often be getting lost in the blind ambition of individual pursuits.
“We have to let parents know, if we have someone who goes on to college on [an athletic] scholarship, that s great,” Muscaro said. “But that s not why [school sports] exist. We exist for the values learned from playing.”
“Less than one percent of the seniors go on to play in Division I, and about two or three percent continue playing at all in college. We re losing focus on what our main goal is in high school athletics.”
Muscaro is proud of some important positive gains he and the OHSAA have made.
Heading that list is a college scholarship program that awards around $140,000 annually to Ohio student-athletes, a health insurance program that covers athletes at no cost to the schools, and annual leadership conferences that have involved thousands of students and adults over the past seven years.
As for his legacy, how would Muscaro like to be remembered for his OHSAA service?
“That I was a guy that cared about young people,” he said. “Someone who, in his decisions, did the right thing. Someone who, in his life, was a role model that stood for the right things. The bottom line, if you think of me as a person of ethics and integrity.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461.