Mayfield wrestling: Senior D.W. Fritz enjoys one last go-around with his father/coach in the corner

Feb. 29—Rising out of his chair in the corner of the mat at the Division I sectional wrestling tournament at Austintown-Fitch, Mayfield wrestling coach Dwight Fritz did everything he could to hide the tears his eyes.

It wasn't working.

As he watched the hand of his team's 144-pound entry be raised as a sectional champion, Fritz's eyes welled up thinking about the conversation he had last spring when the young man's junior season came to an end with an injured back.

"Thirteen years is enough," the boy told his coach.

That boy? His son, Dwight — affectionately known as D.W.

So when D.W. punched his ticket to this weekend's Division I district tournament at Hoover via a sectional championship in his senior year of wrestling that he nearly gave up — yeah — there were tears.

"It was pretty amazing," Dwight said. "I was clapping and trying to cover my face so people couldn't see my crying. Even if he wasn't my son, the comeback is amazing. How tough is it to do that? Again, even if he wasn't my son ..."

But he IS his son. And his best friend. Buddies who have been side by side both in life and in athletics since — well — forever.

That makes this journey to the district tournament — and hopefully beyond — that much more special.

"I still remember being in the Geneva wrestling room," D.W. said, harkening back to when he was 4-years-old and his father the head coach at his alma mater. "I could still probably walk that school like the back of my hand. That's where it all started. I went to every practice wit him since I can remember. I can't remember a time I WASN'T at a practice with him."

That was the case regardless of sport, whether it was football, wrestling or track. Those are the three sports Dwight played collegiately at Thiel and the three sports in which he worked with his son both in the early days at Geneva and when Dwight was hired at Mayfield.

"The poor kid's been stuck with me for a long time," the proud father said with a laugh.

After losing a consolation semifinal match, i.e. the blood round, as a freshman, D.W. had big dreams for his sophomore and junior seasons. His appetite for wrestling success was whet even further when he missed out on a state berth his sophomore year. That set the stage for what was SUPPOSED to be a banner junior year, until a back injury in football season crippled his junior year of wrestling.

D.W. explained the hit that hurt his back, with one player hitting his left hip and another hitting his right shoulder. The wrenching of his spine left him with a major muscle imbalance and nerve issues. He tried to wrestle through it, but ended his season last Jan. 7. That's when he told his father, "13 years is enough," figuring his wrestling days were over.

"I just told him, 'Don't throw in the towel yet," Dwight recalled.

What helped D.W. get back to competition form is his and his family's background in fitness. The family owns the Powerhouse Gym in Willoughby and everyone is involved, including Dwight, his wife Tonya, daughters Rachael and Rebecca, and D.W., who does everything from wiping down machines to group training to sales.

"I probably wouldn't be in this position if not for that," D.W. said of his fitness background. "There were days last year it hurt so bad just to walk, but I did a lot of work with dumb bells not only to strengthen the weaker muscles but also to maintain the other side so eventually they evened out. ... But yeah, for a while I thought I was done."

That's what made the run through the Austintown-Fitch Sectional that much more gratifying — the journey he took to get back to where he is now.

D.W. enters the Hoover District with a 24-9 record. He'll face Valley Forge freshman Zamani Matsuo-Jamieson in the opening round, setting up a potential quarterfinal against Wadsworth's Jack Dinwiddie. Mentor's two-time state-qualifier Antonio Shelley is also in D.W.'s half of the 144-pound bracket.

After graduation, D.W. will join the Marine Corps with an eye on becoming an aviation technician, working on engines in both planes and helicopters, following the family's deep involvement in the military. But first, he wants to end his high school athletic career at the highest level by advancing to the state tournament with a top-four finish in this weekend's district tournament.

No matter what, he's going out on his own terms, not succumbing to the back injury last year that made him tell his father that "13 years is enough."

Well, 13 years WASN'T enough. If he can end Year 14 by trotting out of the tunnel at the state wrestling tournament next weekend to his father waiting in the corner of the mat to coach him one last time, it's safe to say Dad's tears might return.

"That," D.W. said, "is the biggest goal I've had. To be there with my dad, that would be my lifelong dream come true."