Good Sport: Decision-Making in the Heat of the Moment
Leaders at the Ohio High School Athletic Association knew that ending the state championship hockey game in a draw after seven overtimes would be an unpopular move. Making the call required stepping back and thinking about the bigger picture—and their students’ safety.
Never before had Ohio crowned co-champions in high school ice hockey, but that changed last weekend when the game between Sylvania Northview and Cleveland St. Ignatius was called at the end of the seventh overtime, with the score stuck at 1-1.
Aware that the players were becoming visibly fatigued, officials from the Ohio High School Athletic Association brought together the head coaches and other athletic officials from the two schools to discuss how to proceed.
“It was clear that we were now venturing into a health situation,” said Tim Stried, director of information services at OHSAA. “There were a couple of different options that were presented. One was to play one more overtime, but actually the coaches suggested ending it right there, and that’s what was agreed to.”
While the decision-makers all reached the same conclusion that the game should be called a tie, they knew that the players, fans, and family members in attendance were not likely to be pleased with the way the game was about to end.
Part of OHSAA’s job as the neutral party in those situations is to help take that emotion out of the decision-making process, Stried said. “I think our staff is always prepared to handle something like this if it comes up, even if it’s on that dramatic a scale—I mean, we have to be, that’s what we’re here for.”
Still, the reaction was predictable.
“In the 24 hours after the game ended, the reaction was 99 percent negative on social media,” said Stried. “One of the things that we’ve been trying to educate people on is that in Ohio, and in every state, we play by rules set by the National Federation of State High School Associations. There is no shootout procedure in high school hockey; you just have to keep playing more overtimes. So, we followed the national rules and kept following and it was clear—in hockey the puck can go in the net at anytime, and it just wasn’t happening.”
What was interesting to watch, he said, was how quickly the reaction changed over the next few days.
“I’m sure some students and even some fans are still not happy about it, but the overall feeling out there, including on social media, is positive, and a lot of that is because people now understand that there was no other option,” Stried said. “We did absolutely everything we could, and we made the decision for the safety of the kids.”
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation, forced to make a tough call in the heat of the moment? How did it go? And what tips would you share on how to maintain your composure?