The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

June 3, 2014

Baitt, but no switch

Once Jefferson standout settled on Heidelberg, there was no turning back

Not long after his love affair with wrestling began, Joey Baitt started working toward a few goals that were years off in the future.

As he graduates from Jefferson, the son of Jim and Lisa Baitt is on the precipice of reaching the last of those dreams. Baitt will wrestle while continuing his education at  Heidelberg University.

“I’ve been wrestling all along to get to the college level,” Baitt said. “It’s really been my goal all along to make state and wrestle at the next level.”

The little boy picked up the sport after getting a flier handed to him might have trouble believing where everything would have gone all those years ago.

“I wouldn’t have believed you (if you had told me I’d be wrestling in college),” Baitt said. “Honestly, I had gotten a paper from my gym teacher and thought I’d go do it for fun. I liked it right off the bat.

“I just took it one step at a time. I realized how much closer I was (to the goal) with each step. When it started getting closer, I realized how high I could set the bar.”

Baitt was just 6 or 7 when he was getting started in the sport. At a point many grapplers are ready to hang up their shoes after years of a tough mental and physical grind, Baitt will press on.

“(Wrestling in college) is only a small accomplishment,” he said. “I want to go on and achieve more, do whatever I can in college.

“A lot of (the grind) is mental, having no energy, cutting weight and going to practice anyway just trying to be satisfied with yourself at the end of a day.

“(Getting to the collegiate level) means lot to me. It also makes me want more. It fuels the fire to go out and get more.”

Baitt chose Heidelberg over Baldwin-Wallace and Thiel.

“The (Heidelberg) coach contacted me my sophomore year and have been looking at me since,” he said. “They got me there on a visit and I went back for an overnight visit and, basically, the next day I made the decision that’s where I wanted to attend.”

Heidelberg offered something the others just couldn’t contend with.

“The wrestling team was better and the home matches are packed,” Baitt said. “There’s a lot of school support. It’s a lot different from Jefferson. The school offered what I want support-wise. Instead of 10 or 15 fans, we (Heidelberg) has a packed gym. They even have spotlight duals where the fans have glow sticks.”

With Heidelberg just 2 and a half hours away, it offers Baitt the perfect chance to be on his own, but be close enough to enjoy some of the comforts of being at home.

“I didn’t want to go too far away,” he said. “Two and a half hours is not too close where I can get some space, but whoever wants to come out and watch me wrestle can and I can go home on the weekend if I want.”

In order to stay involved in the athletic realm, Baitt will pursue a degree in physical therapy.

“I got the idea when I was younger to go into physical training,” he said. “I can still be around sports and be hands-on. I can go to football games or wherever I am needed. I still get to be part of sports.”

Once his mat career ends, Baitt could see a transition into coaching.

“I could see myself being a coach somewhere,” he said. “I want to be around wrestling. It’s grown into being a part of me. It would be too hard to give it up.”

After wrestling at 132 pounds for the Falcons, Baitt will be a 133-pounder for the Student Princes as a freshman, where there is an opening in the lineup.

“(Starting as a freshman) was not really something I openly looked for,” Baitt said. “But they do have an opening. If something does come up and I’m not in the starting lineup, it will make me work 100 times harder to make sure I am in the starting lineup.”

Staying at a weight he’s already wrestled at will be difficult, but it will also be a comfort for Baitt.

“I looked at the weights before I decided where I was going to go,” he said. “I had the mindset I was going to be at 133. It just so happened (Heidelberg) had a spot open at 133. It worked out perfect.

“I’m so used to cutting weight, as weird as it sounds, I’m so used to it I feel like I wrestle better, even though I have less energy. I feel like I’d be sluggish with more food in my system.”

A number of coaches have helped Baitt to reach this level of his career.

“When I started off, Mark Meyers was the coach in the youth program,” Baitt said. “He helped me get to the state finals in sixth grade — him and Mike Sanford, who ran the second practice I would go to. Both of them pushed me in different ways and helped me to get to that level.

“I would go to practice with Scott Francis and his high school team (at Kirtland) when I was in third or fourth grade over Thanksgiving. He also helped coach the youth program.

“Coach (Tom) Avsec did a lot to take what everyone made me and molded it all together. Iaian Gilchrist has been with me a pretty long time, too. In youth and junior high, he would send me a card and told me to get my mindset right. He actually coached me at junior high state. Coach (Troy) Smock was only with me 2 years, but he was probably the best drill partner I’ve had in the room. He got on me a lot. He made me mad a couple times. He got on me and made me push through.”

Having the support of his family has been important to Baitt.

“My dad has really pushed me a lot,” he said. “There was a time I was going to 2 practices a day and he’d have to drag me to the second one. My mom has always been there to support me.”        

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.

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