It should have been the finest hour for the Genoa High School girls' softball team.
It became the Comets' longest day.
Little did the team, or head coach Tom Kontak, know what was ahead.
Their Division III state semifinal game against Bloom-Carroll at Ashland's Brookside Park was scheduled to begin at 5:30 Friday evening. But because of rain, the game didn't begin until 12:57 a.m. Saturday, and when the final out was recorded at 2:37 a.m., the Comets had suffered a 1-0 loss.
The scheduled start times for the two D-III semifinals were 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, with Genoa scheduled for the second game. The scheduled 3 p.m. semifinal between Warren Champion and Brookville actually began around 10:15 p.m. Friday and ended at 12:21 a.m. Saturday.
So why were these games allowed to start so late?
Ohio High School Athletic Association assistant commissioner Duane Warns, who oversees the state softball tournament in Ashland, accepts responsibility for the decision.
"It's a tough call and I'm not sure it was the right call," Mr. Warns said. "The schools and the students are the primary people involved and, if any of the schools had said they didn't want to play that late, we wouldn't have played.
"It was unfortunate, but that's what happened and it is what it is. I'm sure we will look into putting some time parameters on these events for the future. What those will be, I don't know."
As midnight neared, did Mr. Warns question his decision?
"It crossed my mind several times as it was going on," he said. "But we thought we'd be finished with all four games before the time the last game started."
Mr. Kontak said there was no discussion Friday of postponing his team's game until Saturday.
"My understanding [of the adjusted schedule] was that there were going to be four games played that night," he said. "The decision of whether or not to play had to be bigger than just me as a head coach. There were a lot of people involved."
The Comets had boarded a school bus at 11:30 a.m. on Friday and arrived in Ashland at 1:30 p.m. They stopped at the field and were advised of the four-hour delay.
The team rode to the hotel in nearby Wooster, met at 6 p.m. for dinner and, after being advised of the additional delay, had a makeshift warm-up session with Wiffle balls in a bowling-alley parking lot adjacent to the hotel. They arrived at Brookside Park at 9:45 p.m., expecting to start their game at 11 or 11:30 p.m.
"My focus had to be getting my team ready to play the biggest game of their lives," Mr. Kontak said. "Clearly there was excitement in the air. For the coaches and the players on our team, never once was there any sense of controversy that night. We were just thinking about staying ready for our game."
Mr. Warns acknowledged that, if there was an error made in judgment, it was made on Friday afternoon and not early Saturday. By then, he was committed to his decision to play the two Division IV semifinals as well as both D-III semifinals.
"We wanted to try to keep on schedule as best we could," he said. "We made the decision to play all the games that night. In getting all of them in, it went much later than we had planned on. Clearly it went too late. I think we'll all agree on that. We didn't anticipate starting any game at 1 o'clock in the morning."
"A situation like that should never happen again," said Todd Traver, the Comets' scorekeeper, whose daughter, Kelly, is a senior shortstop. "I don't understand why it wasn't delayed one more day. They should have canceled that whole event for a day. Hopefully, it will never happen again."
The four original game times Friday were 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5:30 p.m, the same times the Division I and Division II semifinals were played on Thursday at Brookside Park.
The OHSAA announced rescheduled times of 2, 4, 6, and 8 p.m. When the rain lingered longer than expected, the times were changed to 4, 6, 8, and 10 p.m. After the rain cleared and the field was made playable, the first Friday semifinal, originally set for 10 a.m., began at around 5:40 p.m.
"The only thing that I was really seriously worried about," Mr. Kontak said, "was that there would be families, and some high school students, who would have to be driving home at 4 and 5 in the morning. That's always something you worry about.
"Even on a normal day, I wouldn't want my kids driving anywhere at that time, let alone 90 miles," Mr. Kontak said.
There were some underlying concerns that factored into Mr. Warns' decision.
Foremost, some of the schools involved in the state semifinals had commencement exercises scheduled for Sunday, including Bloom-Carroll, located southeast of Columbus. Genoa's graduation ceremony had taken place the previous Sunday.
Secondly, Mr. Warns did not want to split the two Division III semifinals - playing one Friday night and the other on Saturday - and create an unfair advantage for the earlier semifinal winner.
In this scenario, the latter semifinal winner would have to play twice on Saturday, once in the morning and again at around 7:30 or 8 p.m. in the state final.
"In hindsight, [pushing both D-III games to next day] would make sense," Mr. Warns said. "But it's not an easy call because there's a lot of factors involved in the decision. You've got all the teams traveling in, you've got fans traveling in, and you've got officials traveling in, some from great distances."
Shelly Scheanwald, mother of senior second baseman Leslie Scheanwald, said the OHSAA made the wrong call.
"It just seems like they [the OHSAA] didn't prepare for something like that to happen. It went day-by-day, hour-by-hour," Mrs. Scheanwald said. "They didn't have an alternate plan. They need to implement a rule across the board that a game can't be played starting after 9:30. Whether we would've won, I would've felt the same way. It'll probably be the last game I'll see at 3 a.m.
"My mom [Dorothy Borchert] said, 'This is probably one of the strangest things I've ever done in 79 years of life, but I wasn't going to miss it for anything.' "
Another factor considered by the OHSAA was that Bloom-Carroll had not made hotel arrangements. The Bulldogs' plan was to drive home after the scheduled 5:30 p.m. game and, if they won, return for Saturday's scheduled 5:30 p.m. final.
"In hindsight, we should have had hotel rooms reserved," Bloom-Carroll athletic director Phil McNally said. "We were about the only ones that got caught with our pants down.
"We asked the kids at about 8 o'clock that night about playing and they said, 'We're here. Let's get it done.' At that point, we were kind of stuck in the middle. But everything worked out OK, the kids had fun, and we'll live with it."
"What took place was clearly unprecedented," Mr. Kontak said, "and I'm convinced that everybody involved was just doing what they felt was best at that time. I have no question about that.''
Blade sports writer Donald Emmons contributed to this story.
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