When asked what was the most important lesson he learned from 12 years of wrestling, Clay High School senior Mark Orth needed only a split second to reply.
"Fight 'til the end," Orth said.
His performance at the recent state tournament indicates that Orth - who placed sixth in Division I at 135 pounds - lived by those words.
Closer to his heart, however, Orth also revealed that there was one fight he always will be glad that he did not take to the end.
That was the sometimes contentious relationship he had with his late father, Mark Coutcher, who died suddenly at age 45 on Feb. 19, 2009, a few days after Orth, then a junior, won the second of his three City League championships.
Theirs was a story of a father and son, far from perfect, who were once extremely close. They had drifted apart after "butting heads" too many times.
"The [relationship] with me and my dad was kind of iffy," Orth said. "We were fighting back and forth for a while. But we started to make a bond. I had moved out, but I would go over to his house and help him build.
"He had some back problems, so I helped him remodel his house. He'd give me the money and I'd run and do all the work for him. It made me feel real good. I started bonding with him."
Orth said a heart attack claimed his father.
"When I lost him, it felt like that took everything from underneath me," Orth said. "We were both like the same person, so we would butt heads a lot. We had little arguments back and forth. Just stuff we'd disagree on."
Father and son had reconciled their differences before that fateful afternoon when the news arrived. Orth was getting ready to begin practice for the 2009 sectionals.
"I had just got my gear on and one of my coaches came and got me and said they needed to talk to me," Orth recalled. "They walked me up to a room and said my aunt was on the phone. She told me what happened and I almost fainted. I dropped my face on the [computer] keyboard."
The bond between this father and son had been built and reinforced through the sport of wrestling.
Some 12 years ago, when a friend of his wanted to try it, Orth, then in first grade, also hoped to join.
Mark Coutcher agreed that it was a good idea and took his son to sign up.
Orth showed a talent for the sport early on, and stayed with it through elementary school and junior high, paving the way to a four-year high school career that netted him 114 victories.
From the moment he heard his father had died, Orth was emotionally devastated and nearly inconsolable.
With the 2009 sectional tournament just a few days away, competing was suddenly out of the question for Orth, who had not qualified for state during his first two seasons at Clay.
"He was definitely real torn up from it, and he's still recovering from that," Clay coach Gerry Anthony said. "He was very close to his father, and his dad was really a force supporting Mark in his wrestling."
Skipping the sectionals meant the end of Orth's junior-year season. And, for a while anyway, he thought it might have been the end of his career.
"I tried to pull myself together, but I just couldn't," Orth said. "My dad passed away. There was nothing I could do.
"I don't regret not going. What happened happened, and it wasn't about to change. I was thinking about giving wrestling up altogether. But, overall, just being around the sport and the coaches my whole life, I stayed with it because I knew they'd stay on me."
Three of Orth's 114 career wins came in City League championship matches - at three weight classes (145 in 2008, 152 in 2009, and 135 this year) - but the one win that will define his career came on March 4 in the first round of the Division I tournament at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
When he placed third in the D-I district tournament at Ashland, Orth consequently drew an especially difficult first-round matchup in the 135-pound field.
He would face the 2009 130-pound state champion, Shawn Fayette of Miamisburg.
In their one meeting this season at the Greater Miami Valley tournament, Fayette had scored a 9-1 major decision over Orth.
Little about this first-round state match led anyone to suspect an upset, but a determined Orth had other ideas.
Every ounce of energy was dedicated to preparing for Fayette, whom he subsequently upset in a 10-5 decision.
"It was the shock of the tournament basically," Anthony said, "beating the state champ. If you're going to wrestle a state champ, that's the best time to wrestle him [in first round]."
Said Orth, "I did what I did, and the result was that the hard work paid off."
In the March 5 quarterfinals Orth then edged Massillon Perry's Zach Dailey 4-3. Dailey had placed fourth at 130 pounds in 2009.
That's where the road ended for Orth, who fell 9-1 in the semifinals to eventual state runner-up Mark Martin of Lakewood St. Edward.
Orth subsequently met Fayette again in the consolation bracket and held a late 4-2 lead before yielding a pivotal point-scoring combination in the final 30 seconds to lose 8-5.
In his final match, for fifth place, a depleted Orth lost 8-2 to Austin Sams of Fairfield to wind up in sixth place.
Throughout his high school years, Orth's coaches at Clay, especially Anthony, played a big role in his day-to-day life.
"He's been a big part of my life," Orth said of Anthony. "I don't know if you want to say he was like a big brother, but someone who took care of me like a father figure. He was always there for me, and he never doubted me."
By the end of his senior season, Orth no longer doubted himself. "Sometimes, after my dad passed away, school was really hard to get through," said Orth, who has no plans to attend college and hopes to become a boilermaker. "I just wanted to be done with school. I didn't want anything to do with it.
"But for sure, I'm glad I stayed with it. No matter how hard the going gets, you've got to keep fighting."
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org,
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