In going back through and reviewing the high school baseball and softball teams from Ashtabula County to reach the state tournament in this space a day ago, my thoughts turned to Kyle Conel.
What the young man from Lakeside accomplished a few weeks ago winning the Division I state wrestling championship at 195 pounds — and going undefeated, to boot — put the mind of yours truly in the wayback machine.
The journey was back to what the passage of time has shown to be The Golden Age of high school wrestling in this county.
Conel, the brilliant, Kent State-bound Dragon, brought home only the sixth state championship from Ashtabula County in the 77-year history of the state tournament.
The other five state championships were claimed by county matmen in a 5-year period — the aforementioned Golden Age of Ashtabula County wrestling — from 1980 to 1984.
As we continue to exalt in the remarkable, record-setting performance put up by Conel in rolling to not only a state championship in Ohio’s big-school division, but also a 53-0 record, let’s give the men responsible for The Golden Age their due.
Though he may not have quite realized the enormity of what he did at 145 pounds in Class AA at the 1980 state tournament in winning Ashtabula County’s first championship on the mat, the Grand Valley senior eventually did.
“It’s a lot more significant now,” he told our Karl Pearson during a 2007 interview. “It still surprises me that three of us from the same small school are pretty much the only ones in all those years to win a state championship.
“It brings back so many emotions.”
Fletcher finished third at the state tournament as a junior, something he said spurred him to what he accomplished as a senior.
“I was the co-favorite my senior year,” he said. “I had finished third the year before. That gave me a lot of confidence going into my senior year.
“That was back in the days when only eight wrestlers made it to state in each weight in Class A.”
Fletcher praised his fellow Grand Valley greats who followed him in mining gold in Columbus, but he was the first.
He credits his father, John, a dairy farmer, for being steered toward wrestling.
“My father was never a big sports guy, but he’d take on two or three guys just rolling around,” Fletcher said, “and beat them.”
Apparently, John Fletcher’s farm-bred strength was passed on to his son.
Mike Fletcher, Ashtabula County’s first state-champion wrestler, won his championship matches at sectional, district and state in the same manner — by pinfall.