As a kid, I couldn’t have pointed out Newbury on a map, but today I’m disappointed for the Black Knights, who rolled up their wrestling mats for the final time on Wednesday.
The school will close and its students will merge with West Geauga beginning next year.
It wasn’t until high school, when I was a part of the Willoughby South wrestling team, that I was introduced to the Newbury community or, more accurately, the wrestling program.
I began wrestling in seventh grade and became obsessed with the sport.
My neighbor purchased for me a subscription to the old Ohio Wrestling News newspaper that would be sent out a couple of times per month and also to Wrestling USA magazine. I’d devour the stories about high school wrestlers from states all over the country and other schools I had never heard of.
To pass time at home, I’d sit by myself at the dining room table pitting my Star Wars action figures against each other in mock wrestling matches.
I even created brackets.
The Storm Troopers always got the highest seeds but Chewbacca was the heralded underdog and he always stunned the make-believe crowds with his five-point moves to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Eventually, I graduated to a wrestling card game I invented. Sorry, it didn’t catch on so it isn’t available in your local toy store.
I went to work on my game the moment the state wrestling tournament pairings were printed in the News-Herald.
I created brackets for each weight class and I’d go through each match, one by one, flipping a card for each wrestler. The wrestler who drew the highest card advanced to the next round.
It got a bit interesting when I drew face cards. I simply chose my favorite wrestler, either because I personally knew of that wrestler or because he attended a school I was familiar with, or even because I thought he had a cool last name.
I’d flip cards until I had a state champion in each bracket.
I continued this game throughout high school and I remember a high school teammate at South, Dave Yerse, who suffered an injury during his 1984 tournament run that forced him to default out to sixth place. Dave doesn’t know this but he actually won the state title in my bracket. I flipped cards until he won…my game didn’t include injuries!
My obsession turned me into a bit of an activist.
Unpleased with the minimal amount of coverage in the News-Herald, I wrote a letter to the editor pleading for more coverage.
I wanted everyone to enjoy the sport the same way I did and I wanted the Dave Yerses of the world to become household names.
Until 1986, the only school I was very familiar with that went on to win a state title was Lakewood St. Edward.
Like many high school wrestlers at the time, I was intimidated by the mere mention of the school. It didn’t help that the worst beating of my career was to a St. Ed’s wrestler. I’m convinced the state later adopted the technical fall rule because of that match.
St. Edward won the big-school state title that year but it was Newbury that caught my attention. The Black Knights put together a dream season that year and went on to win the 1986 Class A state title.
I went from not knowing anything about Newbury to being so excited for a nearby school to win it all.
The 1986 Newbury Black Knights inspired me.
Over the past 20 years, I have done what I can to cover the sport, promote the sport and to champion the benefits of competing in the sport.
That’s why seeing the Newbury program roll up the mats for the last time hits home.
The sport isn’t much better off than it was when I wrote that letter to the editor in 1984. The talent is there, no doubt, but participation numbers have declined for many years.
This winter, coaches are optimistic again.
Their numbers are up and their youth programs are growing.
Still, it’s sad to see a program with such historical significance to me wrestle its final match.
Over the years, Newbury wrestlers have claimed eight individual state championships. Dozens of others have earned a spot on the podium in Columbus.
In a few weeks, we’ll see if another Black Knight can add his name to the board listing all of the school’s state qualifiers and place winners, wherever it will be found in the future.