First-time state wrestlers gain experience in Columbus

Mar. 10—COLUMBUS — The sport of wrestling in Ohio has its own version of Mecca.

It's called the Jerome Schottenstein Center or simply "the Schott."

It's the place every wrestler dreams of one day arriving at and getting to march out of the famed tunnel into an arena floored with mats and surrounded by wrestling enthusiasts.

It's a place coaches want their kids to imagine themselves being one day. The ones that are fortunate enough to experience competing there are then told each match is just another match.

It's not an easy sell, though.

This weekend, three Ashtabula County wrestlers and two from Madison made the voyage to Columbus and the Schott. For four of them it was their first experience.

Jefferson junior Johnathon Bissell and Madison junior Izaiah Siler both had never been to the Schott before, but said everything about it lived up to its billing.

"I can't even put it into words," said Bissell, who went 1-2 at state. "It was awesome, really really cool and a great experience. It's bigger than I thought it would be, a lot bigger. The size of the place is massive."

Siler agreed it's a lot to take in.

"Especially for your first year being down here," he said.

The wrestling did not go the way Siler had hoped as he did not make it to the second day of competition.

He'll have another, year though, and some great memories to look back on.

"It was a really fun experience,"Siler said. "Getting to see the Ohio State [wrestling] room, wrestling around and being down on the floor. Overall, it was a nice experience."

Madison coach Andrew Tomaso said he and his staff brought down 15 kids.

That included a pair of participants — Siler and Noah Blough — along with Taylor MacAdam, who was a state alternate on the girls side.

Blough finished 1-2 at state.

Tomaso said it was important to get other wrestlers in the habit of making the voyage to Columbus a yearly trip.

"A lot of these guys grow up in families of wrestling," the coach said. "They've come down for years. We want kids to start seeing it, look at the mats and get used to being down here in March."

It was also Kyle Vencill's first time competing at the Schott. The senior was an alternate a year ago, but said he could not get enough of what it meant to compete.

"I loved it," he said. "I love how I'm going out seeing the big arena, knowing everyone is watching, helps me a little bit."

It was the same for Conneaut senior Scotty Edwards, who like Vencill, was an alternate a year ago and made his debut as a wrestler this weekend.

"It was a lot," he said. "I was excited, but I also had to think. This is the big leagues, one misstep and it can be over."

While reaching the Schott can be a dream come true, it can also be a bit terrifying.

Coaches such as Edgewood's Scott Blank and Jefferson's Cody Lewis say it's important to let kids be familiar with the surroundings before they get a chance to compete.

Lewis said he and

Bissell did a complete walk-through of everything that would happen.

"Basically we run a walk-through of how we're going to warm up,where we're going to warm up, talk about it, then you're gonna have TVs," Lewis said. "We'll look for our number and mat assignment, then see where we're going to be at."

Blank addded, "If you've never been down here, you really have no concept of what it's all about. It's very tough for a kid to come down if they've never seen the arena and I've seen so many times where a kid freezes up, but if they've been down here, that helps a lot."