Being the lead voice for a governing body that represents 824 schools isn't easy.
Nor is attempting to see all 824 schools in some type of sporting event, an incredible goal Ohio High School Athletic Association Commissioner Dan Ross has tasked himself with trying to achieve.
While in the area Wednesday night to take in the public open house of Firelands Regional Medical Center Stadium at Perkins High School, Ross, entering his ninth year as OHSAA commissioner, took time to answer a wide variety of questions from the Register.
Among the topics covered include the best state football playoff game he has ever seen, the threat of club and travel sports to sanctioned high school athletics, and the never-ending debate of private vs. public when it comes to athletic success. This last issue will likely be put to a vote for a third straight year in the spring of 2013.
Question: What is the general state of the OHSAA entering the 2012-13 school year?
Answer: "I think we're moving in the right direction. The coaches education piece is doing really well, I feel good about that. We're still working on the concussion piece, there is a bill in the legislation that passed the house with concussions, so we're working with legislators on the incentive side to see if that bill passes, how it will affect us and our schools. That is on our radar, as is the heat illness issue.
"We had a lot of conversations with our coaches and athletic directors in the last month, but we are trying to do a good job serving our schools. Our booster summit in the spring had 330 people, and we're having another one in November to serve and provide educational opportunities, so that we can make sure the kids under our people's care are well-educated and well-trained."
Q: Describe what it is like being the commissioner of such a large governing body.
A: "In a lot of ways its like herding cats (laughs). People have been doing a lot of things for a long time, and they do what's very convenient and comfortable. Sometimes you have to turn the Titanic, and sometimes it doesn't turn on a dime.
"I think helping them understand it's about serving kids, not about what is convenient for coaches or anybody is the big thing. It's about doing the absolute very best thing to serve kids. And that part is not easy, because it's not always the focus. I'd love to think it is, but that is not always the case."
Q: Best football playoff game you have attended?
A: "The 2007 (Div. IV) state championship game between Cardinal Mooney and Coldwater. Mooney was up two touchdowns with less than 10 minutes to go, and Coldwater takes the lead with a little more than a minute left. Mooney then scores in the final seconds, only to have the extra point blocked and lose, 28-27.
"The block at the end, I was standing on Mooney side ... I remember the dead silence and shock, because just about everybody thought Mooney was going to win, and a lot of people thought that team could win any division that year. Coldwater really surprised them. A lot of people were rooting for Coldwater as the underdog all over the stadium. Another good one like that was Bellaire and Ironton in a regional final in double-overtime, it was almost exactly the same way."
Q: How many football or basketball games have you attended in the Northwest district?
A: "I go to a lot of them, I go all over. My goal as commissioner, it's real ambitious. I want to go to some kind of an event involving every school in Ohio before I retire. There are 824 total, and being at Perkins (Wednesday) makes me at 540. I'm getting there, slowly but surely."
Q: How much cost of a ticket is too much for a high school game?
A: "I don't know that there is ever going to be a line that you draw. If you talk about what Ohio does versus other states, we haven't raised prices in a number of years. Now, I won't be surprised if the student tickets for basketball goes from $8 to $10, which has been the same price since we moved to the Schottenstein Center in 1999.
"But there isn't any intent to raise any other prices. We are probably at or below the level of most other states, and we'll hang right there for a while."
Q: With the constant growing of club/travel teams like volleyball and baseball in the summer, do we have to worry about club sports taking over an OHSAA sport and replacing it entirely?
A: "I do believe there are a lot of parents that believe that is the best way to get their kid a scholarship. But our goal isn't to get them scholarships, it's for them to participate and learn life lessons and become better citizens. There is always going to be a group of parents that maintain anything short of getting their kid all sorts of exposure and a scholarship is unsuccessful. But there is one percent of kids who will get a Division I scholarship. We will never ever promote a program that leaves 90-some percent of our kids out. Why would we push or leave some of our kids out? Because 96 or 97 percent of those kids, when they put their uniforms on as a senior, it's going to be the last time they will ever wear. It's our job to make that the best experience we can possibly make it. That's never going to be our goal.
Now, are there some parents who wish that could happen? Absolutely. We'll just have to agree to disagree that it's the focus of what high school sports should be. I don't think it is, and I don't believe that most of our principals, AD's, superintendents and coaches believe that it is, but I believe a lot of parents feel that way. They believe that is best for their kids. I'm not for specialization, I don't think it's good, and some injury pieces have pointed out playing volleyball for 12 months isn't going to be good for your knees. Hopefully as we continue to share that research with our coaches that we make a little bit better decisions. But you have club coaches telling them if they don't do this, you won't get to play. But the fact remains, you are nine times more likely to get academic dollars than athletics."
Q: It appears after two straight years of attempts at splitting public and private schools in different divisions has been shot down, a new vote will be attempted in the spring to split the public and private schools into separate state tournaments instead. That is not something the OHSAA supports, correct?
A: "I am not a supporter of split tournaments, absolutely not. I believe very honestly, that we have one of the best systems in the country. But I very honestly believe we need to tweak it. The proposals we've put together the past two years ... to do nothing is one end of the argument, to separate is the other end. But the past two years we've been in the middle. If this passes, we'll deal with it. If it doesn't pass, we'll probably come back to the middle and try to get some kind of tipping point. This isn't a small group of people saying we need to do something. Over 300 of our schools believe we have to change. I don't think they want a great big change, but a tweak in the system. I would believe that too, but we have 330 that say we like it the way it is. We honestly haven't probably hit the right tipping point of what it's going to take. Now, let me tell you what that could be.
"If you look at state basketball last year, no private schools won the boys titles. If two of them went to privates, it would be the poster child for the people on the other side. So there are so many variables involved with it. We'll see what happens, but we are going to be patient and keep chipping away. A 52-48 percent vote two years in a row tells us we have a good nucleus of good people ... We just haven't found the right mix yet."
Q: How has the OHSAA fared during the past four years of the economic crisis, and how does the financial forecast look moving forward?
A: "We never carry over much. We are in the black, and do have some options. We could always go back to our schools and say 'we are going to institute a membership fee.' We don't do that. We could say, 'Hey Sandusky and Perkins, when you put your team in the basketball tournament, it's going to cost you $50 for your boys and girls to participate.' And, the catastrophic insurance that allows kids to covered here, which is a $700,000 bill that we pay, we could go back and tell schools you have to pay half of whatever it is per school. We do have some options, but we've chosen not to do those for very specific reasons.
"I always felt, if you have to pay that, they can say to me, 'I don't know if we have that money, so we won't have golf, tennis or soccer and other non-revenue sports.' If we make that decision, the domino fallout could be we may not have kids who have the opportunity to participate. And for me personally, that would absolutely be the worst thing. Because I think kids gain so much from their opportunities to be involved in activities like this. They learn many wonderful life lessons that I would never want a school to not be able to provide that opportunity for a financial reason that came from us. We've tried to make sure we don't make cuts or add fees, because we don't want what I think would be a very negative domino effect on schools."