By Dan Gilles
It’s been a long time since Brookside won a team championship at a big wrestling tournament.
In fact, head coach Brian Behrendt could not recall it happening during his eight years in charge of the program.
However, the wrestling program has a big trophy it can proudly display at the school, and has put itself on the map.
The Cardinals withstood a late charge from Elyria Catholic, but outscored the Panthers, 248-234, to claim the championship at the 10-round, two-day Vermilion Holiday Wrestling Tournament, which was completed last Thursday.
The tournament was held round-robin style, with 10 rounds of competition held over the two-day event. The wrestler with the most wins after the 10 rounds would claim the individual championship, and ties were broken by criteria such as most pins.
EC won four individual titles to Brookside’s three, but the Cardinals finished with eight overall placers in the top three of their respective weight classes.
“The kids manned up today,” Behrendt said. “We faltered a little bit in Round 8, and I was a little concerned about not keeping our lead. But as the ninth and 10th rounds wore on and the kids were winning, I started feeling a little more confident.
“It was close, and I give EC a lot of credit for sneaking up there out of nowhere. They had more champions than we did, but we had the placers behind those champs, and I think that helped.”
Behrendt knows just how much this means for his program and the school.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Behrendt said. “I know we won tournaments out at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson a few times. But outside of those, at least in my eight years here, we’ve never won a big tournament like this.
“From top to bottom, this team earned this. I’ve been telling the kids, ‘The more successful you become year after year, at least over the eight years I’ve been doing this, the more people we’re going to get to pay attention to us.’
“And the more people who pay attention, the more people who might want to wrestle and join us in the future. It’s things like this that can snowball into something bigger, and that’s exciting.”
Taking home individual first place medals were sophomore Brandon Bellman (120) and seniors Matt Thomas (145) and Josh Amburgey (285).
Thomas went 8-1 to win the 145-pound championship. Elyria Catholic’s Jerrot Schill also finished 8-1, but Thomas beat Schill head to head and had more points accumulated in his victories.
“This feels really good, it really does,” Thomas said. “This was a good experience, not just for me, but for my whole team. Hopefully, the younger guys can learn from this and we can keep going and moving forward. Last year we got fourth here, so to go from fourth to first shows just how much improved we are.
“Our wrestling program’s really getting a lot better since a few years ago, and we showed that this week. The school will respect wrestling more, I think, and our coaches will be very happy.”
At first, though, the tournament awarded Oberlin’s Tyler Thomas with the first place medal and shut out both Schill and Matt Thomas from the podium. After a recalculation, the error was discovered.
“Everyone in the crowd started looking at me, and all I could do was shrug my shoulders,” Thomas said. “Fortunately, they got it figured out.”
Both Amburgey and Bellman went 5-0 to claim their respective championships.
Brookside had two runners-up in David Petrucci (126) and Gio Taw (195) and three third-place finishers in Aiden Wonder (113), Christian Quiles (170) and Ivan Mendoza (220).
“Our veterans did what we expected them to, and our young kids picked up some big wins that we weren’t expecting,” Behrendt said.
Avon Lake resident Don Way was given a special honor from Vermilion High School, just before the start of the ninth round, for his 52 years as a high school wrestling official. Way is retiring after this season.