In terms of high school sports in Ohio, nothing tops the state wrestling tournament.
For fans, athletes — and probably media — the event is at a higher quality than anything else the state has to offer.
Ten mats going at once. For three days. That would be the equivalent of four semifinal basketball games being played simultaneously in one giant arena. But wrestling doesn’t need extra space — Ohio State’s Value City Arena works just fine — and the atmosphere of fans cheering for 20 wrestlers at the same time creates an atmosphere unmatched.
“It was really, really overwhelming,” Fairfield Union state qualifier Stewart Oehlers said, reflecting on his first trip to the meet in 2012. “I had never really been to this big of a tournament. I walked out of the tunnel and was just stunned.”
It can be confusing at first. It’s difficult to stick with the frantic pace of the meet and the more than 1,000 matches that happen during the three days. I overheard a couple conversations behind me Friday where people were explaining the format to their confused fellow spectators. But those questions eventually turned to cheers after a few hours to get used to the crazy format, as the Ohio High School Athletic Association has structured the tournament as well as possible given the almost 700 wrestlers competing.
Where else can fans watch 42 state champions be crowned in one session? In track, championship events are spread out over two days, with some taking place at a different part of the complex. All football games are not played at the same site, and basketball is spread out during a 12-hour day (which appeals to basketball nerds such as myself, but I’m not so sure about anyone else).
In wrestling, championship matches are done three at a time, with all three divisions of each weight class going at once. Even those new to the sport can be entertained by the non-stop action and momentum that can change in the time it takes somebody to roll over on his opponent.
All wrestlers competing in the state final matches are brought out in a parade of champions before their matches begin. Nowhere else in the state can fans see all the best competitors of a sport at the same time.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the world coming up from under that tunnel realizing you’re about to wrestle in front of thousands of people,” said Amanda-Clearcreek senior J.J. Tipton, who finished fourth in Division III this year in his first trip to the state tournament.
And for weather? Wrestling makes the elements irrelevant. Spectators don’t have to worry about enduring rain or cold (here’s looking at you, football) or the overwhelming heat that tends to accompany state finals in spring sports. It might be cold outside, but that doesn’t matter inside the arena.
State tournaments are about seeing the best athletes each sport has to offer, and wrestling is the best at it.