By BOB ETTINGER - For the Star Beacon
Kyle Conel is coming to the end of what may be the greatest career of any Ashtabula Area City Schools wrestler ever. One victory away from the state title, there’s someone very important to that career missing from the picture.
His coach, Jerry Brady, who was removed from his position earlier this winter, will not be in his corner as he competes for the first state title in school history sometime after 6 p.m. today at the 77th Ohio State Wrestling Tournament at Value City Arena.
“Jerry’s meant a lot to my career,” Conel said. “He’s been a big factor, not just as a wrestler, but in life. He’s been there for me more than a normal coach would be. He’s been a friend and a father figure.”
Conel is 52-0 heading into the Division I state finals at 195 pounds. His career will end with him having lost no more than a total of two matches in the last two seasons. A season ago, he was the state runner-up at 195. Yet, when he looks back on it years later, there will be a piece of the memory missing.
“(The whole situation) has had a big impact on my season,” Conel said. “Not necessarily my season, but, for me, personally. This has had a big impact on me personally. No offense to Jim (Brady, the current head coach) and Kelly (Prine, the assistant), but it’s a lot different. It’s nowhere near the same.
“This is not going to stand out the most, but I’ll never forget it.”
With that in mind, Conel has a bit of extra motivation heading into his final bout.
“It would mean a lot to me to win the state championship for him and everybody who supported me, all of my coaches and family.”
Brady was on the mat for Tyler Newsome’s final match as a Dragon in Columbus. Jim Brady had a reason for that.
“There’s a mixed bag of reasons,” Jim Brady said. “You see wrestlers coming to the end of their careers, especially at state, whose father, or peewee coach, or the guy who got them started or their junior high coach, in their corners. At that point, there was a chance it was going to be Tyler’s last match and I wanted Coach Jerry to be there for his last match.
“There’s nothing like having the guy who gives you the most confidence in your corner. I’m their coach every day. I’m doing the best I can to help them stay at this level or improve. It meant a lot to the kids and even the parents who came down. They had been on me to let Coach Jerry down there on the mat and be with each of the boys in their final matches.”
To that end, Jim Brady doesn’t like the way everything has happened.
“My brother didn’t beat up any kids,” Jim Brady said. “He didn’t do anything illegal or unethical to any children involved in the wrestling program or the school and, morally, I have a hard time not allowing him to sit on the mat like he and I have done the last two years.”
Prine said he would gladly sit in the stands to allow Jerry Brady to return to the mat.
“Believe me, if I could, I’d give him my seat for the finals,” he said. “He built the program. Jim and I are just helping it on its way.”
Conel isn’t just speaking for himself in the matter. He has the rest of the Dragons in mind. He has seen the different things Brady did for the team.
“He shows he cares in a lot of ways,” Conel said. “The kids aren’t just wrestlers. He shows us we’re actual people. It’s more than winning or losing. It’s about the individual.
“I’ve seen him go out of his way to help a kid. He gives a lot of his time. He’s late to practice at times because he’s making two or three trips to give rides to kids whose parents can’t get them there. It’s a lot of kids, good and bad. A lot of kids may have been kicked off the team. Not with him. He doesn’t have favorites. He’ll help you, no matter who you are.”
The senior, himself, has been on the receiving end of that help.
“He helped me a lot,” Conel said. “He sent me to the Kent State camp even before I was committed so I would get a feel for what college would bring. He sent a lot wrestlers to the Gene Mills camp. He sent anybody who wanted to go. He said to call anybody who wanted to go and bring them with me. He came through.
“He’s supported it all with his own funds.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.