By Jamie Baker
The pungent smell of sweat and bleach permeate gymnasiums and wrestling rooms in high schools throughout Ohio.
It must be wrestling season.
And it couldn’t come at a better time.
As wrestling coaches work to build their teams in the preseason, I’m trying to rebuild this blog.
We’ve changed a few things and in the long run hope that it will make it better and more informative.
I’ll still give you plenty of results, polls, links to stories and a few stories of my own. But we hope to add a little more video, maybe a weekly podcast. We’ll see how it goes.
In the meantime until we get things sorted out, you can view and use much of the old NW Ohio Wrestling Blog right here: http://sports.bsconnection.com/Blogs/NorthwestDistrictWrestling/tabid/542/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/3140/New-Year-Update.aspx
It’s kind of the one secret back door entrance that wasn’t destroyed during the blog changeover we endured, yes, two hours before the kickoff of the high school football season.
First for those that don’t know me, I know many of you do, here’s a little about me.
I’ve been lucky enough to work in the newspaper business for 20 years, the last 16 here at The Findlay Courier. And while I cover a lot of different sports, I look forward to covering wrestling the most.
My boss Larry Alter, who has been at the paper 40 years, calls me a pit-sniffer. That’s OK by me.
I’d rather watch a mid-week dual between Ottawa-Glandorf and McComb or write about a kid like North Baltimore’s Morgan Findley, a champion wrestler who doubled as a cheerleader, than sit courtside at the finals of the OHSAA state basketball tournament.
That’s just me. Nothing against basketball and those who coach, love and play it but that’s not me, that’s not what I know.
I know wrestling, it shaped me, it made me who I am today.
I wrestled a little for the Fostoria YMCA when I was a little kid. But I was too fat for my age and there were no kids big enough in my age group to wrestle. I went the whole season practicing, without wrestling a match and lost interest after that year.
I went on to play for an admittedly bad basketball team at Fostoria St. Wendelin through the eighth grade. One day as I was walking through the gym to the lockerroom, St. Wendelin’s wrestling coach Tom Clark, grabbed me by the arm and said he needed someone to “roll around” with one of the varsity guys. I shook my head and said OK.
That night, I told my mom I was quitting basketball and joining the wrestling team. She was heartbroken and even cried. She even offered me the princely sum of $2.50 per game to keep playing hoops (Note: That was a lot of money for an 8th grader in 1981).
It was the second best decision I ever made, after marrying my wife Jeanine.
Four years later I was winning St. Wendelin’s first state championship in any sport when I won the 1986 275-pound Class A state championship at St. John Arena.
The decision I made to wrestle four years earlier allowed me to compete in such exotic places as well…Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin just to name a few (please note sarcasm).
It also essentially paid for my college education at Wright State University in Dayton. I was just an average college wrestler and never qualified for the NCAA Tournament. But that experience in college competing against NCAA champs and Olympians certainly taught me a lot and those friendships I made in the wrestling room and on an off the mat made me who I am today.
I also coached at St. Wendelin for a dozen years with my good friend Bob Whitman. We were never a great team, but we turned a crappy little program with absolutely no wrestling tradition into a decent program that was respected by its peers.
We never had any state champs but several state qualifiers through the years. It always made me feel good when we would wrestle with some of the state’s bigger parochial schools at the CIT and one of our wrestlers would beat a kid from Moeller, Ignatius or DeSales and someone would come up to us and say Where are you from? St. Who?
But it wasn’t the wins and losses that were most important to us. It was not just about making them better wrestlers, it was about making them better men. When they finished school, graduated and went out into the world we hoped that they would take something with them that we taught them on or off the mat that would make them better citizens, better fathers, better people.
As much as I enjoyed coaching, and I hope someday to coach again, I just didn’t have the time.
Two daughters later, Elise is 3 and Kate is 1 this month, it’s tough juggling work and family let alone trying to coach wrestling.
So I’ll put all my excess energy and enthusiasm into this blog writing and reporting about the sport I’ve grown to love over the past 30 year and the sport I know many of you have grown to love too.
By Jamie Baker