Ohio Tournament of Champions: Breeding Ground For Future Success
- Written on Monday, 09 April 2012
- Written by Adam Levitt
The Ohio Tournament of Champions is America’s largest one day youth wrestling tournament. Now in its 20th year, the event has become a showcase of future high school and collegiate stars.
(Youth1) - When it comes to national youth wrestling tournaments, 14-year-old Kaleb Romero of Mechanicsburg, Ohio competes in them all. Tulsa Nationals? Been there. Reno Worlds? Ditto. Rocky Mountain Nationals? Check. USA Wrestling events? He'll be there.
"We love heading to all the big national wrestling events," says Pat Romero, Kaleb's father and middle school coach. "It's a great opportunity to compete against some of the best kids from all across the country. But the one we find to be the best year-after-year is right in our own backyard."
That tournament is the Ohio Tournament of Champions, America's largest one-day youth wrestling tournament, founded by Tournament Chairman Bart Freidenberg. This year's event, which marks the 20th anniversary of the tournament, will be held on Saturday, April 21 at the Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, OH. Close to 3,000 wrestlers from ages 8 through high school from 30 states across the country are expected to participate. Wrestlers compete in three minute matches on 40 mats spread out in the center area of the 200,000-square-foot convention center. Wrestlers, coaches, parents and fans roam around the outer edges of the mats, watching competition and talking wrestling. In fact, many kids will put up tents or sleeping bags around the outer edge walls as they set up camp, preparing for a long day of wrestling where they could realistically wrestle five to 10 matches or more in one day (all wrestlers are guaranteed three matches).
Kaleb Romero has won four Ohio TOC titles and is 73-3 this season. He's a six-time Ohio Schoolboy state champion and won his first Ohio Middle School state wrestling championship this year. He competes at 120 pounds and his dad knows his son will face top-notch competition competing at the Ohio TOC.
"A lot kids from across the country will be here, so it's a chance to see some different styles of wrestling, some new kids and just get on the mat and wrestle," says Romero. "But what we also like about it is that it's a one-day event. A lot of national tournaments are spread over a couple of days and when you head out of town, that can get expensive. Of all the tournaments we've been to, this is the top. What Bart and his staff have put together is just a fantastic event. It's well-run, efficient and organized."
Freidenberg has always been passionate about large wrestling events. He got involved in wrestling event planning and promotion in high school, working for the AAU and assisting with many of their national wrestling tournaments and clinics in the early 1990's. He started the Ohio TOC and grew it over the years, even while in college where he was a manager for the Ohio State University wrestling team. Now, nearly 40,000 kids have competed in the tournament over the 20-year history of the tournament.
"The number one thing we try to do is to make it fun," says Freidenberg. "Kids come back year-after-year because they have a positive experience. The competition is tough, but we want it to be more than just a wrestling event. We want people to leave and say 'wow, that was neat.'"
To do that, each year Freidenberg lines up celebrity guests who make appearances at the tournament. While they have consisted of wrestling’s biggest names and personalities, such as the legendary Dan Gable, or perhaps current USA Wrestling team members or current or past NCAA champions, this year's lineup of guests includes celebrities of a different sort - young actors who are sure to catch the audience's attention. Among those scheduled to appear are Dylan Riley Snyder, who plays Milton on Disney's Kickin It, Jake Short, who plays Fletcher Quimby on Disney's A.N.T. Farm , Tommy Batchelor, who plays Broadway's Billy Elliot and Nathan Gamble, who played Sawyer Nelson in the movie Dolphin Tale.
For diehard wrestling fans, this tournament is also a glimpse of the future. Many future high school state champions and collegiate wrestling All-Americans and national champions have competed in this tournament. In fact, eight of the ten 2012 NCAA Division I national champions participated in
the Ohio TOC growing up. Included in that group is Logan Stieber of Ohio State (133), Kellen Russell of Michigan (141), Frank Molinaro of Penn State (149), Kyle Dake of Cornell (157), David Taylor of Penn State (165), Ed Ruth of Penn State (174), Steve Boask of Cornell (184) and Cam Simaz of Cornell (197). Three 2012 NCAA runner-ups were also regulars - Nico Megaludis of Penn State (125), Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State (133 - 2011 national champ) and Zach Rey (heavyweight, 2011 national champ).
Perhaps the best wrestler in the history of the Ohio Tournament of Champions is Jon Reader of Davison, Michigan. Reader was a three-time NCAA All-American and 2011 174-pound national champion at Iowa State. On the same day of this year's Ohio TOC, Reader will be competing in the USA Olympic Trials, competing for a spot on the USA Olympic Freestyle team in the 2012 London Olympics. Years ago though, Reader was starring at the Ohio TOC, where he holds the tournament record with 10 Ohio TOC individual titles.
"It was a great tournament, one I looked forward to going to every year," said Reader, who lived about a four hour drive away from Columbus. "It just opened me up to a lot of different kids, wrestling a lot of different styles, getting exposure to big wrestling events, competing in a tournament environment. For me, I just loved to compete and anytime I had the opportunity to get on the mat and go against some of the best kids in the country, I didn't want to pass that up. It really is amazing, if you look back at the brackets or results, it's unbelievable how many future national champions and All-Americans participated in that tournament over the years."
But for Reader, the thing he remembers most was, it wasn't just about winning. It was about having fun as a wrestler and enjoying the sport. He says that's the key for any kid or parent involved in this tournament, or any other youth wrestling tournament.
"My dad never once said we have to go here to win it," said Reader. "I had an older brother who also competed and won. We just enjoyed going to it and enjoyed the competition, it was never about winning. First and foremost, you have to have fun competing in this type of environment, or you won't enjoy it. I think Bart and his staff make this a fun tournament, which is why I came back year-after-year."
"A lot of people ask me if I am worried about burning my son out because he competes in so many events and tournaments," said Pat Romero. "But, heck, wrestling is fun for him. It's a natural as waking up and getting dressed and taking a shower for him. He loves it and he eats up the sport."
Especially at the Ohio Tournament of Champions.
"Year-after-year it’s the best we go to and we're looking forward to another great event this year," said Romero.
By Matt Krumrie
“Devoted To Youth Sports
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