The cheers follow the Graham Falcons at every wrestling meet. The Falcons hear cheers from the hometown fans for every win. And they hear the cheers from the opposing side when they don’t.
Winning 18 straight individual team state championships and six straight dual team state championships has made the Falcons the team everyone outside of St. Paris loves to hate.
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“It’s kind of like everyone else against Graham,” senior 285-pounder Johnny Shafer said. “Everywhere we go if a Graham guy gets taken down or a Graham guy loses everyone cheers. It’s rough but we know what to expect.”
The wrestling community gets its chance to cheer the Falcons once again at the Division II OHSAA team dual state championships Sunday at Ohio State University’s St. John Arena. Graham has won every state dual title since it started in 2013, the first five in D-II and last year’s D-I title after accepting the challenge to bump up a division.
The Falcons graduated six starters from the 2018 team but are still loaded for another run. Just ask senior Jeffrey Thomas. The 152-pounder, ranked No. 4 in the state, routinely grapples with 132-pounder Nick Moore, 138-pounder Alek Martin and 160-pounder Isaiah Stickley. Those three are ranked Nos. 2, 1 and 8 in the state, respectively.
“That definitely helps me. They push me every day. They push me and I push them,” Thomas said. “It’s a tradition. We come in here and go to war every day. … We’ve got a lot of close wrestle offs so it’s pretty hard to crack the lineup.”
Top-seeded Graham wrestles No. 8 London at 11 a.m. in the quarterfinals. The winner faces No. 4 Gnadenhutten Indian Valley or No. 5 Sandusky Perkins in the semifinals at 3:30 p.m. The finals are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. No. 2 Aurora and No. 3 Lisbon Beaver Local are the top seeds in the lower bracket. Graham, Aurora and Beaver Local are also ranked No. 1-3 in the D-II state poll.
With a new coach and a younger lineup there’s a buzz that if Graham’s team dual winning streak is going to end, this could be the year.
“I feel like that’s what everybody else is thinking,” first-year coach Travis McIntosh said. “Our guys are stepping up to the plate. … They’re wrestling with a lot of confidence. I’m excited.”
Graham wrestlers are state ranked in 12 of the 14 weight classes. Six of them are ranked among the top five: freshman Nolan Gessler (No. 2 at 106), junior Chris Kelly (No. 4 at 126), Moore, Martin, Thomas and Shafer (No. 3).
“We know we still have to train really hard, especially now,” Shafer said. “We don’t have best team (Graham has ever had) but we still have a really good team. … We’ve been training crazy hard just for this moment.”