When wrestlers from Reading High School take to the mats Friday evening at the Cincinnati Hills League Championships at Deer Park in pursuit of the program’s 10th straight CHL title, they will have no shortage of support.
Reading wrestling events, whether they’re meets at home or away, or simply a practice, are known for the outpouring of support from the community. That’s parents, wrestling alums and students.
“It’s a big deal,” said coach Dick Engel, who is in his 27th season with the Blue Devils. “We’re a unique small-school program. Four or five alumni come back and work out with the kids any given day. Last year we graduated eight seniors and seven of them were four-year starters. Those guys have been in here whenever they’re home from college or can make it. It’s big to carry on the tradition.”
That tradition is a strong wrestling program. Every coach in the program but one is a Reading graduate. Two of them – Dick Engel, the head coach’s son, and Tim Kelly – are former state champions.
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“It’s a tradition,” said Austin King, a 220 pound senior. “We work our butts off all year long and just get in the grind, practice hard and work to win another CHL title.”
The Blue Devils have won nine straight CHL meets and 19 of the 29 league meets that have been held, according to Engel. The wrestlers want to carry on that tradition with a 10th straight title.
“We just don’t want to let the past teams who have won it down,” said sophomore 152-pounder Baden Pinson. “We’re just really trying to keep the tradition going.”
Reading is ranked No. 5 in the final Enquirer Division II-III area coaches’ poll, so the Blue Devils should be the favorite at the CHL meet.
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“It ought to be a pretty close go, I think,” Engel said. “Wyoming and Taylor have good teams this year. Deer Park is always tough.
“We’ve got a really young team. We start seven freshman and sophomores with only three seniors.”
Pinson placed fifth at the district tournament last season as a freshman in the 132-pound class. Right now, he’s 29-3 at 152 pounds. Austin King is 26-6 at 220 after placing fifth at the district at 285 pounds last year. Freshman Dustin Robbins is 26-6 at 106 pounds and his brother, junior Dan Robbins, is 27-5 at 124.
Senior Derek King, Engel’s nephew, is 29-4 at 195 pounds in his first season of wrestling after playing basketball until this year during winter. Derek King (no relation to Austin) came out for wrestling to help get himself ready for football next season at West Virginia Wesleyan.
“My family and coaches said since I’m going to college for football next year that I should come out,” Derek King said. “It really does help with football and I feel like it will make a difference.”
Derek King has also benefitted from the family-like atmosphere surrounding the program.
“Everyone from past teams will come to the room and help us out,” Derek King said. “You never really leave the program. You’re always involved and trying to help out because it is such a family atmosphere. It’s so different from football and basketball. Everyone is just so close and willing to help each other. It really is like an extended family.”
Much of that family, past and present, will be there Friday – before, during and after the CHL championships.
“We have a large group of parents,” Engel said. “Right now we have about five sets of parents whose kids have graduated and they still come to all the matches. Afterwards, the parents all get together. We have one group whose son has been graduated two or three years and they show up every Saturday at a tournament before weigh-ins and set up a little table with food and stuff for the kids for the day.”
It’s a winning tradition.