By EriC mauk
Sometimes, the journey of a lifetime can come down to a few telltale seconds.
For Howland’s Gabe Stark, his journey to become the school’s first state wrestling champion in 29 years literally came down to three seconds Saturday night at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
When those three seconds were up, Stark had staked his claim to the Division II 145-pound state title.
“All the work was worth it,” grinned Stark. “I mean, top 10 in the state is cool and all but it wouldn’t have been a very fun ride home if I would have lost. I wouldn’t have been fine with it.”
Stark’s title bout with Bryan’s Shelden Struble was tied at 2-all with 10 seconds left, with Struble holding the top position after a reversal had erased Stark’s 2-0 lead with 54 seconds left. Stark tried a switch for a two-point reversal with 10 seconds left and nearly hit it, but he just missed it. The Howland senior looked at the clock to see that five seconds still remained and instead of resigning himself to overtime, he took another shot at the switch.
This time, it worked.
“I saw there were five seconds left on the clock and I thought, ‘It’s time to go,’” recalled Stark. “I just knew I had to try the move. It’s more of a feel for the move, rather than seeing a hole and hitting it. I think that he [Struble] might have let up a little after he stopped the first move, and was waiting to go to overtime. That move took everything I had. I saw that score go up and I couldn’t believe it.”
The official raised his hand to signal two points just as the clock hit zero, giving Stark a 4-2 win. The victory came as no surprise to Howland coach Bill Beasom, who has watched Stark and his teammate David Brian Whisler battle for similar advantages in similar situations all year long.
“We teach our kids to keep moving. I wasn’t surprised that he went back for the move,” Beasom said. “I knew he would do everything that he could to hit the move. I think that it’s foolish to try and come out to the state final and try to do something you aren’t used to doing. You are in the final, everyone is a great wrestler, you need to stick to the basics and go with what you know.”
Beasom said Stark’s win was a big boost for the program.
“We have so many kids that came so close and just missed,” he said. “This really gives our younger guys someone to look up to. I mean [1983-84 state champ] Brad [Gintert] is a myth to our kids. He’s around and they understand what he did, but to have someone that they have seen in the room every day will make a difference.”
Six other area wrestlers placed in this year’s state tournament topped by Boardman’s Nick Mancini, who placed third in the Division I 113-pound class. Whisler capped his sophomore year at Howland with a fourth-place finish at 152 pounds, where he was joined on the award stand by Beloit West Branch’s Kenneth Faulkner — who finished seventh.
Canfield’s John Poulias capped his senior year with a pin to take seventh place in the 170-pound class in Division II, while Columbiana Crestview’s Matt Hardenbrook scored a major decision of Coshocton’s Dom Jones to take fifth in the Division III 170-pound bracket. West Branch senior heavyweight Connor Sharp fell twice in the tournament, both times in overtime to Franklin’s Chase Henderson, and finished fourth.