CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The numbers are in and the SSAC experienced - for the most part - a "respectable year'' in attendance for its high school championship events.
Of the 13 events sponsored by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, eight saw increased attendance during the just-completed 2012-13 school year, and the other five declined - though four of those had very small decreases of 115 fans or fewer.
Overall, the SSAC championship events drew a total attendance of 133,759, a gain of 7,821 (or 6.2 percent) from the previous school year.
"It appears to be a very average year, certainly, for attendance,'' said Gary Ray, the SSAC's executive director. "Attendance at the boys basketball tournament spurred that a little bit above last year. The weather cooperated pretty much and we had decent matchups for the most part. It was a respectable year.''
The boys basketball tournament at the Charleston Civic Center provided the biggest gain from the previous year, with an increase of 5,400 tickets sold (see adjoining chart). The resulting total attendance of 57,181 for that four-day event, though, was far from approaching any records.
The all-time attendance figure at the boys basketball tournament of 83,851 was set in 2007, when O.J. Mayo and Patrick Patterson led Huntington to its third straight Class AAA title. That broke the previous mark of 80,209 that had stood for 16 years.
"That was a banner year for boys basketball,'' Ray said of the 2007 boys event, "just like the [Alexis] Hornbuckle and Renee Montgomery years were banner years for girls basketball.
"Because of situations like that, you don't try to compare one year to the next. It doesn't give you a real good picture to try to make determinations. You need a five-, six-year span if you're going to do that.''
That's why Ray isn't going to call this year's state baseball tournament at Power Park a disappointment, even with ticket sales dropping about 2,000 - from last year's 9,652 to an unofficial 7,527, the biggest decline among 2012-13 events. (Official totals were available this week on every sport but baseball, which concluded Saturday).
"This year's baseball no way compares to last year's baseball,'' Ray said, "but there were several reasons for that.''
Ray pointed to the 2012 Class AAA final, in which Princeton beat Nitro, and the AA game, Wyoming East over Herbert Hoover, as part of the reason for the higher attendance that year.
"Last year we had local teams,'' Ray said, "and we moved [the championship games] to Sunday because of the rain. Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day and we had a better crowd. Because of the way it fell - the matchups, the weather - it was more accessible for people to get there.''
The SSAC crowns champions in 19 sports, but attendance is only charted in 13. Five of those are combined events for boys and girls (cross country, soccer, swimming, tennis and track), and admission isn't charged for the state golf tournament at the Robert Trent Jones course at the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling.
"It's impossible because of the venue,'' Ray said, "and how it's laid out.''
Even though attendance was up slightly in all its events, the SSAC's revenue may not have risen accordingly, Ray said.
"Expenses continue to rise,'' Ray said, "especially with gas prices where they're at now, and we have to be purchasing things every now and then. Many of the events are now sponsored by the various locations to cover some costs.
"We cut some expenses by [reducing] travel ourselves. Some meetings that used to be held on the road, we do here now [in the SSAC's Parkersburg offices].''
Financial figures for the 2012-13 school year aren't yet available, but Ray stressed that he's against another possible source of revenue for the SSAC - increasing ticket prices.
Ray said the SSAC hasn't raised ticket prices at its championship events in about 10 years, and he's determined to keep it that way to help avoid financial burdens for parents of athletes, who already log many miles keeping up with their sons and daughters.
"I understand that. I feel for them,'' Ray said. "It's difficult to make that decision - how far to travel and how to handle it, and can I handle it? Where we're at now [with ticket prices] is where we need to hold the line for as long as we can.
"It hurts you at the gate sometimes, but a family makes a determination to keep the household running properly or going to the game. Parents continue to support us, as do the people in the communities. But sometimes they say, 'Do I drive 40 miles to an event and spend all that on gas, or do I drive to work?' And they make that determination to drive to work. We understand that. Our fans are doing the right thing.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.