By JAMIE BAKER
Midweek wrestling matches don’t typically draw much attention.
It’s just another weigh-in for most wrestlers in an already long and grueling season and many matches are wrestled in front of parents with few students in the stands.
Today, though, there are a couple of midweek duals that should draw some attention, and one, that will most certainly have a captive audience.
Liberty-Benton’s wrestling team will welcome North Baltimore and Lakota at 6 p.m. today for the school’s first home dual match in nearly 30 years.
Earlier in the day, Columbus Grove will travel to Riverdale for a rare in-school dual match that will be contested in front of the student body at the end of the school day beginning at 2 p.m.
For Liberty-Benton, a home wrestling match has been years in the making.
After wrestling was dropped at Liberty-Benton in the late 1980s, the program was restarted first as a club team, then as a junior varsity program while the school’s solo wrestler and state placer Tyler Sarreshteh finished his career.
The wrestling program is in its second season as a full-fledged varsity program but until today hasn’t yet had a home match on the schedule.
Tonight, the Eagles are ready to fly.
“I think it’s going to be special because hopefully we’ll have a lot of kids from school come to check it out,” said L-B wrestler John Rozelle, who missed most of last season with a broken ankle.
“We haven’t been able to do this for a very long time. I watched when they had kind of a match here when they were a club team and it looked really fun.”
The wrestling program at L-B is slowly beginning to build some momentum.
There are 18 kids in the high school program and another 16 on the school’s first-year junior high team. Those are pretty solid numbers compared to many other Division III programs around northwest Ohio.
“I give a lot of credit to Scott (Garlock). He’s our biggest supporter. We wanted to be able to expose the sport to our community,” said L-B head wrestling coach Jim Wittkamp. “With 20 years of coaching the sport in some capacity it’s neat to see how the school has embraced the sport. We’re hoping people come out and watch. These kids are a part of history and we’re really trying to build something here at L-B.”
For Liberty-Benton’s 18 wrestlers, coaches, and those in the community who have supported the reinstatement of the long-dormant program, today’s match means a lot.
Chandler Harris is one of those Eagles who can’t wait to step on the mat in L-B’s gym.
“I like the intenseness of wrestling. You have to stay focused at all times. It’s a lot of technique and there are a lot of things to think about when you’re out there,” he said.
“We’re hoping we get a lot of support from the school and people will come out and watch us. We want everyone to learn a little more about the wrestling program.”
A special dual of a different sort will take place today at Riverdale when Columbus Grove and the Falcons get together for their annual battle on the mat.
Riverdale’s students and staff will assemble in the school gym at 2 p.m. to watch their Falcons wrestle the Bulldogs.
It’s an idea Riverdale coach Duane Brodman discussed with Columbus Grove coach Eric Siefker in the past. The two talked it over with their respective school administrator and got the OK for an in-school match at Riverdale this season and Columbus Grove next year.
“With the numbers down what better way to try and promote the sport around school. We talked to the athletic director, principal and superintendent and they all said go for it,” Brodman said.
“A lot of people have never been to a match or don’t know what it’s about so we’ll have Johnny Benitez there commentating and explaining things for people.
“I know our kids are really excited and when I told some of our alumni who were home over the break about it, they were envious and wished that they would have gotten the chance to do something like this.”
Siefker agrees with Brodman and is always looking for more ways to get kids involved in his school’s wrestling program.
“When we first talked about it, I thought is was a great idea. The more exposure the better. That way people, especially kids, can see what it is all about. Our kids are excited because they know they’ll get their turn at our place next year. ”
Siefker also hopes to possibly get the school’s cheerleaders and pep band involved when Grove hosts the match next season.
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