OAK HARBOR — As a high school senior in the late 1970s, George Bergman remembers how Oak Harbor’s gym seemed to trap the sound.
“I was there watching my friends play basketball, and there was a whistle after a play under the basket,” said Bergman, a Cardinal Stritch graduate. “It was so loud we didn’t hear it until the players were halfway down the court.”
Bergman believes he’s heard nothing yet.
Today, Oak Harbor hosts what the Rockets’ 20th-year wrestling coach calls a “once-in-a-lifetime event.” A sold-out crowd of at least 2,100 — not to mention the standing-room bunch — will cram the old gym to watch former Oak Harbor standout C.J. Magrum and the fifth-ranked Ohio State wrestling team face No. 6 Illinois.
“It’s just going to be a crazy environment for Illinois to come into,” Magrum said. “We’re all pretty excited.”
With the blessing of Illinois coach Jim Heffernan, a Lakewood St. Edward graduate, the event is part of Ohio State’s effort to connect with wrestling fans and programs across the state. In seven seasons at OSU, coach Tom Ryan has moved occasional home meets to a wrestler’s high school, including St. Edward, Maple Heights, Perrysburg and West Holmes in Millersburg.
But the Buckeyes’ latest barnstorming event will be their biggest yet, with two nationally elite programs waging one of the top duals of the Big Ten season.
“We’re looking forward to coming up,” said Ryan, who has coached three individual national champions and led the Buckeyes to a pair of runner-up finishes at the NCAA Tournament. “My opinion is that we work for the state. We try to get out there and reach out to them. Building support goes a long way if you come to them. Not everyone can get down [to Columbus] for duals.”
To comply with NCAA rules, Ohio State (9-2, 3-2 Big Ten) will receive all revenue from the dual. The event opens with OSU’s Drew Stone, a 125-pound redshirt sophomore from Oak Harbor, wrestling an exhibition match before the meet begins at 7 p.m.
Among the highlights will be the Stieber brothers from Monroeville, about 35 miles southeast of Oak Harbor. Defending national champion and top-ranked Logan Stieber (15-0), a Buckeyes sophomore who missed the past five duals with a leg strain, will return to face No. 8 Daryl Thomas of Illinois at 133 pounds. Second-ranked Hunter Stieber (23-0), also a sophomore, will follow at 141 pounds.
Magrum, though, is the guest of honor. Ryan wanted to pay tribute to the senior and his high school, long one of the top wrestling programs in the state. Oak Harbor’s recent lineage includes former OSU three-time All-American J.D. Bergman and seven alums currently wrestling in college. In addition to Magrum and Stone, the Rockets claim, Konner Whitt at Air Force, Alex Bergman and the Naval Academy, Ian Miller and Keith Witt at Kent State, and Jake Cramer at Tiffin.
Magrum (10-2), a three-time state champion at Oak Harbor, looks to cap a solid career marred by inopportune injuries in strong form. A three-time national qualifier, he secured his starting spot at 197 pounds in a best-of-three wrestle off during practice this week.
“The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met through wrestling here have been awesome,” said Magrum, a communications major and three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. “Some of the best and worst times of my whole life have been on the wrestling mat, so I learned a lot coming here. It’s been the best time I’ve ever had. I’m really excited to come back to Oak Harbor and finish out there.”
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.