Rocky Rockhold got ahold of several of Trotwood-Madison seniors Thursday morning because he wanted to break the news with a phone call, not a text message. Most of the team, as well as other members of the coaching staff, did get a text.
The seniors deserved something more, Rockhold thought, because the Ohio High School Athletic Association's decision to cancel the winter sports championships on Thursday ended their careers, derailing their chance to defend a state championship.
Rockhold wasn’t even sure what to tell the seniors to boost their spirits at such a low moment. The COVID-19 crisis has created uncertainty for everyone because there’s no guarantee it will pass anytime soon.
“It’s just hard,” he said. “The hard part is as a leader how do you put a spin on it so they feel positive, especially for the seniors. The underclassmen you can talk about how when you come back you’ll have something to work for. It was really hard for me to talk to Carl Blanton Jr. and Sammy Anderson.”
The Rams won the Division II championship last season with a 77-73 victory against Columbus South in the final. Anderson and Blanton started in the game and combined for 37 points. Keon'te Huguely, another key junior a year ago, added six points. Those three players were the team's leading scorers this season and led the Rams to a 24-2 record and a district championship.
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Trotwood-Madison beat Purcell Marian 74-63 on March 6 in Cincinnati and had no idea it would be its last game. It was scheduled to play Thurgood Marshall at UD Arena on March 12. That was the day sports stopped across the nation.
The OHSAA announced an indefinite suspension of the winter sports championships. The suspension became permanent Thursday, though spring sports remain postponed but not cancelled.
Even as hope dwindled of the winter sports championships continuing, Rockhold told his players to remain positive.
“The way we play, you’ve got to stay in shape,” he said. “If you go to them and say, ‘It’s probably not going to happen,’ they sit in the house and play video games and what not. This was our way of getting them to go out and do some running and try to get them to remain active.”
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The players did a good job of following that advice in recent weeks. The seniors kept tabs on the younger players, making sure they were exercising. Until the stay-at-home order became official, they gathered at the high school to run together. Then the school shut down everything.
The news announced Thursday confirmed what most people around the state expected, but it’s still heartbreaking for Trotwood-Madison and numerous other athletes in boys and girls basketball, wrestling and ice hockey. Lakota East, Alter, Stivers and Jackson Center also were still alive in boys basketball. Carroll, Anna, Minster and Fort Loramie were in the girls basketball state semifinals.
“Our kids are taking it really hard,” Rockhold said. “Especially Carl and Sammy and Keon’te. They’re just the heart and soul of our team, and they play with a confidence. They felt we had a chance to make it back and defend (the championship). That’s not to disrespect anyone we would have run into, but we felt we had a legitimate chance.”
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