II public high school called Graham. It is located in a sparsely
populated community known as St. Paris, which according to the 2000
consensus figures has a population of approximately 2,000 people.
Graham is named after Albert Belmont Graham an educator and founder of
the 4-H program. It also houses the nation's No. 1 wrestling program.
Amidst the farm fields of west central Ohio, resides a small, Division II public high school called Graham. It is located in a sparsely populated community known as St. Paris, which according to the 2000 consensus figures has a population of approximately 2,000 people. Graham, named after Albert Belmont Graham an educator and founder of the 4-H program, is a school with above average academic scores and few discipline problems. Head wrestling coach Jeff Jordan and his family live nearby.
Jordan’s varsity wrestling team toils endlessly in a small, outdated practice facility, where the heater doesn’t always want to work on the coldest days of winter.
Regardless, a few months ago his team focused on the upcoming Iron Man wrestling tournament, held in northeast Ohio. Long regarded by many experts as the toughest tournament in the nation, it is so tough that results from here often play a big part in the national rankings. It is at this tournament, held in December, that Graham won decisively over two of the best high school wrestling programs in the nation – Blair Academy of New Jersey and Lakewood St. Edward of Ohio. These two teams have won the majority of national titles in recent years, and Graham had not beaten St. Ed’s in a dual meet in six previous attempts.
To even wrestling fanatics, it is nearly inconceivable that such a small, rural, public school as Graham, could accomplish such a victory. In St Ed’s wrestling gym in Cleveland, a plethora of championship banners are on display. The 2007 national wrestling championship banner has recently been added. However, in December’s Iron Man tournament, Graham won the team title by placing an incredible 12 of 14 wrestlers.
Mark this date down on your sports calendar – March 1. That’s the day Graham High School will win its eighth straight Division II state wrestling title. Impressive? How about they also have an outstanding chance of breaking the team points total of 229, set last year by perennial D-I power St. Eds. The team point total record is also likely to fall because one of Jordan’s team goals this school year is to qualify all 14 wrestlers to state. From what this writer has witnessed, this goal is attainable.
To help one understand how dominant this Graham wrestling team is this year, let’s assess some numbers. In the Iron Man tournament last December, Graham finished 42 points ahead of second place Blair Academy and 92 points in front of third place St. Eds.
The Falcons won the Top Gun tournament by 164.5 points and the Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Association (GMVWA) tournament by an amazing 238.5 points. In 10-plus dual meets, the average winning score has been by 55-9, and this gauntlet includes the top teams in the state in all three divisions. How did all of this happen?
There is a saying in the sports world, that if you want people to like you, then lose. Teams that consistently win are often booed, sometimes hated, because maybe it just gets tiresome. I give you an example – the New York Yankees. One may not appreciate them and their accomplishments, but they are consistent winners. Graham is now in the same boat and among the elite high school wrestling teams in the nation. They are here to stay, and their winning ways and powerhouse teams are now known by anyone who follows the sport. Please stand in line and wait your turn to boo.
Many of Graham’s mat masters are trained in Jordan’s summer camps. Here, technique is only one of the many skills enhanced. Many past campers have learned the hard work that is involved in becoming a champion. According to Jordan, the mental part of wrestling is the hardest to teach. Now, you put all of the skills together he teaches, along with endurance and focus, and you have your typical Graham wrestler.
Recently, my wife and I attended the Division II State Duals, held in Columbus. Her comments simply put were that “Graham is a scoring machine”. Against the top teams in Division II from last year, Graham was victorious over each opponent they faced, this without two of their top wrestlers. As soon as a Graham wrestler steps onto the mat, you can see the confidence, and it magnifies with each takedown. Like in boxing, they continue to score points, waiting to get in the knockout punch, the pin. Each opponent puts up a valiant fight, but in the end, as in a tennis match, four straight aces wins. The relentless series of takedowns takes its mighty toll, and then all the opponent knows is the match is over, and they are left helpless.
Again I ask myself, how did this all happen? No need to look any further than the aforementioned Jordan.
In the early part of this decade, Jeff, a former Graham student and wrestler himself, became the varsity wrestling coach. Jeff, along with his brother Jim, are two of 14 individuals to have won four individual state titles in Ohio. Only one other set of brothers have won four state titles each, and each of them both spent two years wrestling under Jordan’s tutelage.
A major reason for Graham’s success is the consistency of talent that arrives at the school each year. Next year 3-5 more junior high state champions will join the roster and Jordan’s summer wrestling camp certainly aids in the development of the local talent. He has currently trained over 300 high school wrestlers who have become state champions. Coach Jordan is still in his prime and a long way from retiring. Many more team and individual state championships seem headed Graham’s way.
All of the training and hard work of the Graham wrestling team can be validated by their impressive victory over St. Ed’s. To illustrate toughness, one of Graham’s freshman wrestlers hurt his knee mid way through his match, but he decided to continue so not let his team down. He knew well that a forfeit would give the opponent six points. He finished the match and lost, but his opponent only received four points. In such an important dual meet as this, each point won or lost is critical.
To show endurance, another of Graham’s freshman wrestlers was behind in his match 8-3, going into the third and final period. He came back and won in overtime. In yet a third match depicting mental focus, a Graham senior won an upset over his opponent who had been ranked as the No. 1 wrestler nationally in his weight class.
When asked by this writer how it felt to be ranked No. 1 in the nation, Jordan replied, without hesitation, “It feels great! Now the kids see that all the hard work, two-a-days, the sweat and the pain, is worth it.”
This is one winner that is hard to hate.
This is contributor Tom Mikusa’s first venture into sports journalism. Faced with some life-changing events recently in his life, Tom made a list of things he wanted to accomplish with one being to get a sports article published. We at JJHuddle are happy to accommodate Tom and help him achieve one of his goals. Another one of Tom’s goals was to bike from Dayton to Columbus which he did in September 2004. He followed US Route 40 the entire way and raised funds for his manager who had cancer at the time. Tom’s dedication helped the family pay for a trip to Disneyland before his manager passed away the following spring.