COLUMBUS — A pair of Johnstown Johnnies wrestlers, defying sickness and injury, ascended the podium and were recognized as among the very best in the state of Ohio on Saturday.
Chris Block and Keith Tanner had earned All-Ohio status on Friday so, the only thing to be decided on the final day of the 2009 OHSAA State Wrestling Championships at the Schottenstein Center was how high they would stand on the podium. At the end of the day, Block would place fifth and Tanner would be eighth.
“I’m really proud of myself,” said Tanner. “One of my goals was to get on the podium. Coach Todd is real proud of me, so I’m pretty happy. We’ve only had four (state placers) in Johnstown history.”
Block, who was undefeated in the regular season, fell a little short of his goal of placing first at the state, but he achieved everything else.
“We’re really excited,” said Block. “We worked hard all season for that and it all paid off — not completely the way we wanted it to, but we faced a lot of competition and a lot of tough guys and we held with them.”
Before landing in the fifth-place final, Block, who placed seventh last year, was going for third place. Unfortunately, during his first bout, he aggravated a painful, old elbow injury against Cody Coomes of Marion Pleasant. After having his arm attended to, the 140-pound Block was able to pull himself together quickly and finish out the match.
“He’s a wrestler,” said Johnstown coach Brad Todd. “That’s what he does. I think he tried to mentally block it out. Nobody will really know for sure how it felt.”
He finished out the match admirably, but it was all he could do to hang on, losing 8-1. The loss placed him in the Division III fifth-place final.
“He dislocated it earlier in the year,” said Todd. “It must have popped out and in quickly on him. I don’t know how bad it effected his mental or physical game. Going into that, it is always tough when you beat someone (Coomes) twice and then they come back and you lose to them.”
“I don’t even know how it happened,” said Block. “I tried to move and the next thing I knew, my elbow popped and it hurt. It happened so fast I really don’t know how it happened.”
Before Block would get his last chance, Tanner had to face Kyle Begg of Bluffton in the seventh-place final. Tanner, weakened by a recent dose of the flu, had miraculously risen to the podium on day two despite his weakened condition, edging Jerod Thome of Troy Christian on Friday. Unfortunately for Tanner, weighing less than the 135 pounds he was competing at, he was running out of gas. Unable to get a good attack going against Begg, Tanner lost the bout, 7-1, and wound up eighth.
“That kid was pretty good,” said Tanner. “He was strong. I did wrestle right. I didn’t wrestle my match.”
“He had a lot of effort and he wanted it,” said Todd. “Unfortunately, he just looked a little flat and it wasn’t lack of effort. It was like his mind wanted to do something, but his body wasn’t able to do it. He had the flu all week and wasn’t able to practice so, for him to come in here and be a state placer was great. I just think it caught up to his body through the long weekend. It will catch up to anyone’s body without being sick and with his having the flu and doing what he did, is pretty good.”
“Monday and Tuesday I was real sick,” said Tanner. “I was going to wrestle — I had that in my mind — but, I didn’t know how well. My mouth was always dry (during the tournament) and I was fatigued.”
It was soon Block’s turn again. This time he went up against Joshua Goebel of Edgerton. Looking in control and with no signs of favoring the painful right elbow, Block took it right to Goebel and defeated him, 4-3, to take fifth place in Division III 140 pounds.
For Block, it was a great achievement, but short of his ultimate goal of finishing first. “He had a gutsy performance,” said Todd. “He got banged up through the weekend a little bit. He dug it out, came through and won his last match and that was important. I just told him to get his mind straight, get focused and go out with a win. He doesn’t realize, yet, how special it is to be a two-time state placer. He’ll see, down the road, what a great thing that was.”
What Block and Tanner achieved is greater still, when one considers what these fine, young men overcame.
“It just shows the character in both of them,” said Todd. “Their mentality and how hard they worked. They don’t want to let little things bring them down as hard as certain things are. They are mentally tough to find a way to dig deep, go through it and perform like they did.”