By Doug Chapin
With the first round of the inaugural OHSAA wrestling team tournament out of the way, the attention of area wrestlers will return to tournaments featuring a more traditional format including one of the area’s biggest events this weekend.
The 20th version of the annual Joshua Hephner Memorial wrestling tournament will play out today (4 p.m.) and Saturday (9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.) at Fitch High School. Admission for each session is $7.
The event honors the former Fitch wrestler and student who was killed in a traffic accident in 1993, just months before the start of his junior year.
The tournament was founded in 1994 by Kevin Krieger and the late John Moritz as a way to keep alive the memory of Josh Hephner. It typically draws many former Fitch wrestlers and members of the Austintown community.
Josh’s parents, Patty and Mark Hephner, are honored each year in addition to volunteers, coaches and former wrestlers.
“In recognition of the 20th year, Robertson Photography in Austintown made a portrait of Josh’s wrestling team and it’s a nice keepsake we’ll present to Mrs. Hephner before the finals,” Fitch wrestling coach Brett Powell said. “We’ve also invited all of Josh’s teammates from 1993 and they’ve all confirmed they’ll be coming.”
Uniontown Lake returns this year as the defending champion. Runner-up Lancaster and third-place finishers Massillon Jackson also are back from the 2012 event. Boardman finished fourth last year. Besides the Spartans and Fitch, area teams participating include Poland, Liberty, Hubbard, Girard, Jackson-Milton and Brookfield.
“We’ve got about 30 teams coming and we expect it to be another great tournament,” Powell said. “Lake is probably the favorite as defending champ and Massillon Jackson is pretty good this year too. The field is pretty deep, there are about 10 teams that could win. We’re looking forward to the tournament, we hope we have another packed house as usual.”
Though the Hephner format is more traditional than a dual-meet team tournament, it includes a bit of a twist from the typical double-elimination individual tournament. The Hephner features pools of wrestlers in each weight class competing in a round-robin format, guaranteeing each wrestler at least five matches. The top two wrestlers in each pool advance to an eight-man bracket tournament.
Among other teams expected to compete this weekend are Shaker Heights, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Medina, Southeast, North Royalton, Copley, Tallmadge, Marlington, Louisville, East Cleveland Shaw, Loudonville and Willoughby South.
“It’s good for the businesses in Austintown, the restaurants and hotels especially,” Powell said. “When the tournament started it was just a local event, then it grew to regional and now we’ve got teams like Lancaster and teams from the Toledo area, the Cleveland area and down along the river.”