Medina County’s annual romp through the state wrestling field begins this weekend at the sectional level. While that might sound trite, success on the mats has become expected every season.
When Brunswick’s Nick Kiussis joined the tandem of Wadsworth’s Noah Baughman and Joey Baughman in the state finals last season, it extended a streak of 26 years in which the county put an individual in the championship match.
To put that in perspective, the area has seven schools, which made up 2.3 percent of the 300 programs represented in last season’s state meet.
When you add Medina residents James Handwerk of Lutheran West and Kevon Freeman of Lake Catholic to Brunswick resident Matt Fields of Walsh Jesuit, the six individuals from the county made up 7.1 percent of the 84 finalists.
“The county is rich in tradition when it comes to wrestling and the community supports it,” said Buckeye senior Eric Bartos, whose father Brian was the school’s first state champion. “That’s why it’s so good.
“That plays a lot into it. My dad isn’t going to force me to wrestle, but he knows if I take up the sport, he’s going to support every bit of it. It’s a rough sport, so it’s good to know someone has done it before.”
Those individuals haven’t just done it before, they’ve had success.
Numbers don’t lie as the county has had 52 state champions and 67 runners-up in the 78-year history of the state tournament.
Included in that are team titles by Highland in 1975 and 1981 and Wadsworth in 1942 and 2010. Brunswick (1980), Highland (1980) and Buckeye (1992) have finished second.
“We’ve been coached by the best,” Wadsworth senior Cody Surratt said. “Coach (John Gramuglia at Wadsworth) and the coaches at Brunswick and Medina, they’re all great. We’ve been raised up the right way. They paved the way for us and that’s a big thing for us.”
That can’t be denied as coaches have produced countless league, sectional and district titles. The efforts individually are off the charts as 302 wrestlers from the area have reached the podium.
“Over the years, there’s just been an abundance of good coaches that have come through those schools,” said Black River coach Jesse Campbell, who was a state champion for the Pirates in 2007. “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve had Dave Khoury and Corey Kline, who coached multiple state champs. John Gramuglia at Wadsworth won a state title as a team and has had multiple state champs and state finalists. There have just been great coaches that have come through and have been given time to grow and build their programs up in their image.”
More than that, wrestling is a brotherhood unlike many other sports as kids become high school wrestlers, move onto the college scene and then come back to their communities to help the next generation.
Once the sport pulls someone in, it rarely lets them go.
Kipp Cullin was a state placer in 2001 at Buckeye and has been involved in wrestling ever since. While he left coaching to go into broadcasting this season, fans could still find him this year at the Walsh Ironman and Medina Invitational Tournaments doing play-by-play.
When interviewed for this story, he was sitting in the stands at a junior varsity tournament.
“You understand what the other guys have gone through,” Cullin said. “I’m not knocking the work ethic of other sports, but wrestling is unique in its own right because it’s an individual sport that has found a way to become a team sport.
“One of my favorite quotes as a coach was, ‘I can lead you to the water, but I can’t make you drink.’ I can tell you everything under the sun to be a good wrestler, but until you buy in and want to be good, nothing will change.”
The future looks just as good as youth and middle school programs around the area are strong.
Maybe more than any other high school sport, wrestling has become the vehicle for some of the biggest accomplishments in the county.
“Northeast Ohio is known for wrestling,” Medina coach and former Wadsworth wrestler Chad Gilmore said. “Medina County is a good area to live in, so people stay in this area. They give back to the program and are building the county up.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.