Douglas: Ohio prep wrestling is the best in USA
COLUMBUS – In case you didn’t already know, this is an Olympic year.
In July, the Games of the 30th Olympiad will come to life in London, England.
While many sports fans think about the Olympics only in their two-year cycles between the summer and winter games, Bridgeport native Bobby Douglas always has the Olympics on his brain.
More specifically, the OVAC Hall of Fame charter member is always thinking about the Olympic Wrestling team.
In his current role as the Director of the USA Wrestling Olympic Development Program, Douglas is already looking ahead to the 2016, 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games as the United States hopes to re-take the world-wide acclaim in the sport of freestyle wrestling.
Working to get a jumpstart on those teams, Douglas is trying to point young wrestlers toward the proper training and coaching to prepare them for a chance at achieving the ultimate dream, for many, of being an Olympian.
Douglas began doing his due dilligence this weekend inside the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University during this weekend’s 75th annual Ohio State Wrestling Tournament.
“Even though we’ve been doing some recruiting already, this is our start-up spot,” Douglas said prior to Friday evening’s championship semifinals, which he watched from press row. “If you’re going to recruit wrestling, you’ve got to come to Ohio.”
Buckeye State wrestling is amongst the best in the country. Actually, many mat gurus believe, it’s the absolute best.
Count Douglas among those guys.
“I counted possibly 14 Division I (college) wrestlers in the tournament,” Douglas said. “I think there are at least three world class wrestlers in this tournament. The tradition and support that I see at this tournament tells me this is the best place to be when you start recruiting.”
Douglas has been witnessing the “tradition and support” for many years. He won two state titles under the guidance of his mentor, the late George Kovalick, and finished third in his other appearance.
Then, as a collegiate coach at Arizona State and Iowa State, Douglas recruited heavily in the Buckeye State.
“As a college coach, I recruited more Division I wrestlers out of the state of Ohio than maybe anyone other than (Dan) Gable,” Douglas said. “I was recruiting them to Arizona and Iowa, which made my job even tougher.”
Quite simply, Douglas firmly believes that the road to United States Olympic wrestling redemption begins in the Buckeye State.
“America can’t be successful in wrestling unless we get the people, from Ohio, involved in our program,” Douglas said. “We’re going to get the Ohio people involved.”
The work toward the Olympics doesn’t begin in a high school practice room. It begins in the pee-wee ranks and Douglas has already taken note of several, who he firmly believes, even at this point in their young lives, have what might be known as the ‘It’ factor on the mat.
“There are potentially six world class athletes (in Ohio) who are below their sophomore year in high school,” Douglas said.
“In this program, I am targeting the junior high and elementary level. I believe there are six potential world-class level athletes right now, and that’s more than I’ve ever seen.”
While that may seem far fetched to many, Douglas just doesn’t offer up this sort of praise for everyone.
“I usually don’t like to judge (wrestlers) until they get to college, but I see six potential world-class athletes in Ohio,” Douglas said.
Douglas didn’t go as far as to divulge any names, but he believes those individuals know who they are.
One of the big areas where the youngsters are beginning to help themselves is by getting plenty of work in freestyle wrestling. Prep wrestling is considered a folk wrestling, which is noticably different than what’s contested in the Olympics.
“Ohio’s loaded with world-class potential, but their kids don’t train in freestyle until it’s too late,” Douglas said. “These kids are already learning freestyle, and we’re going to help them.”
Another big selling point to starting his recruiting efforts in Ohio was the “energy” that Ohio wrestling puts forth along with the support it receives.
For instance, an average of 10,000 people came through the turnstiles for the first three sessions.
“I know the people and the kids in Ohio,” Douglas said. “I like what I see. There’s a wrestling energy in Ohio that can’t be beat anyplace in the world.”
That from a guy who’s been all over the world, so his sample size is fairly encompassing.
“What we have in Ohio is a unique wrestling history that can’t be duplicated,” Douglas said. “If we’re to be sucessful internationally, we need to start in the middle of the country and then take it from there.”
While the American team for London won’t be officially set until the middle of next month at the United States Olympic Trials, which are set for Iowa City, Douglas believes this American team has a legitimate chance to begin the process of closing the gap with the likes of Turkey, Russia and Iran,
“We were way, way behind both technically and tactically,” Douglas said. “Zeke Jones has done an outstanding job of bringing us to the point we are now, but we’re still way behind. We’re not spending half the amount of money that other countries are. Our new development programs are allowing us to start to catch up.”
Something tells me with Douglas and Ohio on board, it won’t take long.
- DOUGLAS didn’t pull any punches when he was asked about the Ohio wrestling powerhouses – Lakewood St. Edward and St. Paris Graham – maintain their levels of success year in and year out.
“They recruit,” Douglas said. “They’re recruiting and they have tradition. They’ve got great coaches who are leaders. The coaches know what it takes. There’s a reason for successful programs and it starts with leadership.”
In case you’re wondering, Graham is a public school. Similar to St. Clairsville or St. Henry, St. Paris is a town in the Dayton area.
- HILLIARD DAVIDSON’S Chase DeLande, who is the son of St. Clairsville graduate Dave DeLande and Shadyside graduate Stephanie (Miller) DeLande was denied a possible repeat state title in 152 pounds. He was decisioned, 6-1, by Maple Heights’ Richard Robinson.
- RIVER HIGH School was represented at the state this weekend. The Pilots didn’t have an entrant, but their mat was one of the 10 used during the tournament. The OHSAA only used two schools’ mats this season. The others are OHSAA mats.
- FORMER Martins Ferry principal Steve Kish was one of the some 40 officials working this weekend’s tournament.
- OHIO VALLEY wrestling official Jack Regis was one of the red-coats. All of the table workers and support staff for the tournament are bedecked in red fleece coats.
Staskey can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org