By Rob Kiser
SIDNEY — The smile on Lehman Catholic wrestler Wyatt Long’s face tells the story.
It hasn’t left the face of the 195-pound senior since Saturday afternoon — when he earned a trip to the “Show”.
Long, 42-8, finished fourth at the Troy Division III district tournament and will wrestle in the state tournament when its gets under way at the Jerome Schottenstein Center Thursday.
“The reality has kind of started to set in,” Long said. “I have had a lot of kids coming up to me and congratulating. I guess the biggest thing is just all the times my dad has told me how proud he is of me. It really means a lot.”
And Long hasn’t forgotten the opportunity he was given his sophomore year — when he made the trip to Schottenstein to watch Skylar Brown wrestle for Lehman in the state tournament.
“I am taking Ethan Knapke over with me this weekend,” Long said. “He is a sophomore who has the ability to make it to the state tournament. I just want him to see what a special event it is. Hopefully, that will motivate him to get over there.”
Which is the idea Lehman coach Cam Haller had in mind when he had Long make the trip to Columbus two years ago.
“I have taken my own kids over, I try to get as many of our wrestlers as possible to go over there,” Haller said. “I want them to see and understand what a great ‘show’ our state wrestling tournament is. It really is a very special event. We have wrestlers write down goals every year and I think his sophomore year was when Wyatt (Long) first wrote down get to state.”
It just didn’t happen as quick as Long hoped.
After finishing eighth at district as a sophomore, he didn’t make it to districts last year.
“It was a humbling experience for me,” Long said. “After going over to state (and watching) as a sophomore, I think I was really expecting big things last year.”
Which just made his resolve all that stronger coming in to his senior season.
“There was definitely a seed planted when I made that trip over there as a sophomore,” Long said.
And after a 6-1 loss in last week’s semifinals to unbeaten Daniel Beemer of Ottawa-Glandorf, had one match left to determine his fate.
Either beat Deandre Nassar of Bethel Tate — or his dream of wrestling at state was over.
“It was everything I had worked for,” Long said. “I remember my dad coming up and saying, ‘This is four years of hard work and sweat on the line — either it is going to be worth it or it is not.”
Long responded with a resounding 12-3 victory.
“First, his semifinal match was really 4-1,” Haller said. “He (Wyatt Long) made a desperation move at the end which made it 6-1. So, he had wrestled a really solid match. Then, he just dominated that match (to get to state). He scored nearfalls three different times in that match. You could just see how determined he was.”
Long will be put to the test at state right away — wrestling projected state champion Gaige Willis of Andover Pymatuning Valley. Willis, 42-0, is a two-time state placer who finished second last year.
“I think Piqua coach Scott Kaye said it best last week when he said, ‘Every match is a finals match’,” Haller said. “Everybody is good at this level. And Wyatt (Long) wasn’t even projected to place at district, so anything can happen.”
Long, as he has since Saturday, sees the glass as half full.
“The way I see it is that it is an opportunity,” he said. “I will go out there in the first period and we will see what happens.”
And he knows no matter what, he is in for the experience of a lifetime.
“That is going to be incredible when I walk out there, look up and see all those fans,” Long said. “I mean, this is the Schott —this is where Ohio State wrestles and plays basketball. It really is unbelievable.”
Going to the “Show” is definitely something worth smiling about.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.