By JAMIE BAKER
Sometime Saturday afternoon, the 29th and final Midland Athletic League wrestling champions will be crowned at Hopewell-Loudon High School.
At most of the league’s schools, the MAL is all they know. Most of the conference’s wrestling coaches have both coached and competed in the league.
“Absolutely, I’m sad it’s ending,” said Hopewell-Loudon wrestling coach Travis Traxler. “Our coaching staff, all but one, are Hopewell-Loudon grads and we grew up wrestling in the MAL and have won individual championships at the junior high and high school level. It’s a big deal for us.”
At the end of the school year, the league’s schools will go their separate ways.
Carey, Mohawk and Seneca East will move to the new Northern 10 Conference while Hopewell-Loudon and North Baltimore will become members of the Blanchard Valley Conference.
Tiffin Calvert will join the Toledo Area Athletic Conference and the remaining MAL wrestling schools, Fostoria St. Wendelin, Lakota and Fremont St. Joseph will join New Riegel, Old Fort and Sandusky St. Mary’s to form the Sandusky River League.
The MAL has certainly had its ups and downs over the years.
In the early 2000s, Mohawk was one of the best Division III programs in the Northwest District and just about every school in the league sent kids to the state tournament on a yearly basis.
In 2003, the league sent 15 wrestlers to the state tournament, more than any other conference in Northwest Ohio.
Last year, the MAL qualified just three wrestlers to the state tournament.
“Even though it’s the weakest tournament we are in all year, it is our No. 1 focus. This is what we have been training for all year. And after the league tournament, it’s all about individuals and getting as many as we can to districts and state,” Traxler said.
“The league isn’t where it was a few years ago, but I think there are some programs that are on their way back up as things end like us and Mohawk.
“The league just kind of lacks some of the top individuals, it’s had in the past still a decent league there will be a lot of kids represented at the district tournament again this season,” he added.
Mohawk will enter the final MAL tournament as the league’s winningest program with 10 conference championships.
Fremont St. Joseph has won eight MAL titles and Carey (7), Tiffin Calvert (4) and Seneca East (1) have also won wrestling championships in the league.
Hopewell-Loudon has a pair of returning league champs in Alex Brock and Damion Vitt. Carey’s Cody Ferguson and Fremont St. Joseph’s Corey Durbin are the league’s other returning champs.
The host Chieftains, who have had several solid showings this season, are hoping to put it all together Saturday to win their first MAL title at the final league tournament.
“Carey is,” said Traxler, when asked who the MAL favorite was shifting the focus onto the three-time defending Blue Devils.
“They have won the last three years and you have to respect that.”
Absolutely we’re going after them. Ask (Carey coach) Ryan Pratt and he’ll tell you there is a target on their back and everyone will be gunning for them.”
The tournament begins at 10 a.m. with the finals set for early afternoon.
Past MAL Wrestling Champions
Fremont St. Joseph 1986, ‘87, ’88, ’90, ’93, ’94, ‘03
Seneca East 1989
Carey 1991, ’92, ’95, 2009, ’11, ’12, ‘13
Mohawk 1996, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’04, ’05, ‘06
Tiffin Calvert 2007, ’08, 09, ‘10
By JAMIE BAKER