In my job as a sports writer for The Daily Record, Holmes County Hub and Shopper, I get to see plenty of great athletes in action. And I'm not just talking about the kids from Holmes County, of which there are plenty donning the Red, White and Blue of the Knights and the Red and Black worn by the Hiland Hawks.
Brady Arnold, Laina Snyder, Max Rohskopf and other West Holmes Knights have treated me to some wonderful sports memories over recent years, while the Schlabach boys, Mark and Dave, have demonstrated unparalleled success as coaches on the sidelines at Hiland.
It was while watching the locals in action recently that I got to enjoy some seriously gifted kids, not only on the hardwoods, but on the wrestling mats as well. And they weren't from Holmes County!
The First Federal Holiday Showcase at Hiland High School on Friday, Dec. 28, featured a matchup of two reigning state champions in the Hawks and the Dunbar Wolverines.
The Hawks are a mere shell of the team that won back-to-back Div. IV titles, but one of the catalysts of that success, Dylan Kaufman, was home from Findlay for a presentation ceremony in which he received his state championship ring and had his No. 53 retired.
Kaufman was one of the greatest athletes I've had the pleasure of seeing play during my 23-plus years as a sports writer.
He graduated as the all-time leading scorer, leader in assists and rebounds, as well as turned in All-Ohio efforts on the pitch in goal for the Hiland soccer team and being one of the top hitters on the Hawks' state Final Four baseball team last spring.
After the presentation of the rings and jersey to Kaufman and Seger Bonifant (who weren't available for the presentation to the rest of the team on Thursday prior to the Windham game), Hiland was dealt one of the worst defeats in recent memory, as the Wolverines overwhelmed the Hawks 67-38.
Coach Peter Pullen's team had two-fifths of its starting lineup from last year's Div. II state champions. Sophomore point guard Amos Harris and 6-foot-8 senior post Damarion Geter accounted for 24 of the Woverines' points. Geter had a couple dunks and displayed some great passing skills, which make him a highly coveted big man.
This Dunbar team is as fast as any team I've ever seen. They put on a defensive display unlike any I've seen in a long time, taking advantage of Hiland's inexperienced back court. They were truly a treat to watch. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wolverines aren't back in Columbus come March defending their title.
The next night, I got to see some of the finest wresters in the country, and I'm not just talking about my brief visit with Colt Sponseller.
St. Ed's, from my hometown of Lakewood, proved to be as good as ever as it dominated the field at the 38th annual Medina Invitational Tournament.
The Eagles have long been considered one of the greatest high school wrestling factories, ever since the 1970s when Howard Ferguson turned his home into a wrestling gym and built the St. Ed's program into one of the finest in the country.
One of the Eagles' stars this year is a young man by the name of Edgar Bright, a 145-pound senior. Bright is one of the top wrestlers at his weight in the country and he handed Rohskopf his first loss of the season in the championship bout of the MIT. I jokingly asked the Knights coach Jeff Woods if he was glad he didn't wrestle St. Ed's on a regular basis, and Woods said he wishes he could. He said it is that kind of experience that makes his kids get better.
There were some other impressive wrestling programs at MIT as well, including Massillon Perry, and a couple teams from Michigan, Richmond and Detroit Central Catholic.
There are a lot of great games yet to be played this season, but it's going to be hard to match the quality of great athletes I got to see over that one weekend.