Williams: Grisdale’s comments took guts

No matter how you feel about what Poland High basketball coach Ken Grisdale vented after his Bulldogs lost to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the Division II regional basketball tournament, we should all agree on this — it took guts.

Grisdale, one of the best educators we get to work with, was as frustrated and angry as any coach I’ve covered in the past two decades. With a minute to go in last Saturday’s game in Canton, the Bulldogs trailed 44-40, then watched every break go to the Irish. The result was a 54-42 defeat and another state dream crushed.

Win or lose, Grisdale answers questions the way stand-up guys do. Since 2002, the Bulldogs have been to state three times. Grisdale is dedicated to his sport and his program. His rage was understandable.

Grisdale’s anger mostly was directed at the Ohio High School Athletic Association because it uses only enrollment to determine tournament divisions.

The consensus is that the majority of public school football and basketball coaches feel it’s pretty difficult for their teams to compete for championships when private schools can assemble all-star teams.

The numbers back them up. The last Mahoning Valley public school to win a football title was Poland in 1999. The last area basketball team to win a crown was the West Branch girls in 2004.

Our story about Grisdale’s comments had social media and Internet message boards buzzing. Many of the latter comments were from anonymous posters.

Grisdale did not hide behind anonymity.

The controversy over the OSHAA format reminds me of another time when a system was rigged and the good guys could do nothing to stop it — the Olympics during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

A month ago when the USA hockey team defeated Russia in a shootout at the Winter Olympics, there was plenty of reminiscing about the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” when American college students stunned the Soviets, 4-3, at Lake Placid, N.Y.

What a lot of people forget is why that game was a tremendous upset and made such an impact. A lot of losing to a stacked deck created that glorious moment.

Unlike today when multimillionaires LeBron James, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps and Sidney Crosby are eligible to compete for gold medals, the Olympics were much different when only amateurs were allowed.

American athletes had to find a way to support themselves without benefitting from their athletic gifts. Corporate sponsors and commercial endorsements were forbidden. Payday came only when the Olympics ended.

Those rules applied to everyone, but the International Olympic Committee looked the other way when the Soviet Union and its satellites employed their best athletes in the military. Their jobs? Training full-time to win medals.

It was a scam but it worked. To everyone but the IOC, the Soviet athletes were professionals, some of them returning to multiple Olympics.

North Americans did not have that luxury. Canada went from 1956 to 1998 in not winning the gold medal in hockey — their best players were ineligible because they played in the NHL.

Oh, how we could not tolerate the Soviets and their gloating. The Olympics (particularly in the winter) were not much fun to watch, if you judged them on winning and losing.

A lot of losing to teams and athletes who had unfair advantages contributed to the joy unleashed when Mike Eruzione scored the winning goal and Jim Craig shut down the Soviet machine in the final 10 minutes of that memorable game.

On the ice and on the slopes, when an American athlete won in those days, it was a big deal. When the Soviets won, they yawned.

It makes you wonder how a system designed to be fair could be so warped.

Grisdale can relate. For years, the OHSAA has been struggling for years to address its competitive balance problem.

In Ohio, enrollment determines the level that each school will be assigned for postseason tournaments. It doesn’t matter if the school has closed enrollment (like Poland) or open enrollment (like Austintown Fitch) or is a private school that draws athletes from multiple school districts.

Twice, the OHSAA has proposed change to create more competitive balance. Twice, change was rejected. Another proposal is scheduled for a vote later this year. It won’t pass. No one wants to upset the private schools because the OHSAA revenue stream might be jeopardized if they took their ball and played elsewhere.

The OHSAA reminds me of the IOC of 40 years ago. Fairness doesn’t have a chance when dollars are concerned and that’s sad.

But it happens.

Tom Williams is a sportswriter at The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @Williams_Vindy.

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