there's no better place than sitting in the chair on the mats during a
meet. Dennis is in his chair this weekend, but not after winning a bout of his own. Dennis' heart stopped at a meet in January and he underwent quintuple bypass surgery on Feb. 1. Thursday he watched his son win a match at state.
Rocky River Lutheran West assistant wrestling coach Harry Dennis says there's no better place than sitting in the chair on the mats during a meet.
As been the case for most this year, Dennis was in his chair Thursday at the 71st annual State Wrestling Championships at Value City Arena in Columbus. Both Dennis’ son Colin Dennis (119) and teammate Josh Malave (135) recorded victories by major decision in the opening round of the Division III tournament.
This is just the second time in the 39-year history of the program that two wrestlers have qualified for state.
“It's very exciting for them,” Harry Dennis said. “Both have worked extremely hard and have a good shot at placing one to four.”
For Dennis, though, this trip to Columbus will be extremely special. A former state qualifier for Lakewood back in 1959, ask him about the sport or why he loves it so much, he won't hesitate to tell you – “It's in your blood.”
Not that long ago, his blood stopped flowing literally, as his heart stopped pumping during a meet.
Dennis had just finished coaching Colin at the Joe Searcy Memorial Tournament at Bedford High on Jan. 19. He got up, went over to talk with some officials and when he bent down passed out.
“What I remember is that I bent down and when I stood up, I blacked out,” Dennis said. “There was no warning at all.”
Lutheran West head coach Dave Ressler remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I was in the lockeroom, and when I came out Harry had to be resuscitated,” Ressler said. “I was really rough, I don't know how to put it in words. My first concern was for Colin. I ran over to him. He had already lost his mother at a young age, and to see his dad, I can't imagine what was going through his head. I just wanted to be there for him.”
Harry Dennis gives doctor Jason Brayley from the Cleveland Clinic and Bedord trainer Tom Iannetta all the credit for saving his life that day. He also credits the school for having an AED on site, because the chance of survival without one is less then 10-percent.
“The trainer and doctor from the Cleveland Clinic were there, and came running over with a defibrillator,” Dennis said. “I had no pulse. They shocked me once and brought me back. If it wasn't for them and the AED, I probably wouldn't be here today. It took Bedford EMS over 10 minutes to arrive on scene. I'm very thankful to those two.”
After being revived, the elder Dennis said he wanted to get back into the chair for the next match. He was instead transported to Bedford Medical Center.
“Once I was in ICU, the team came up to visit me,” Dennis said. “They reported to me how they finished the meet. That was special and kept my spirits high.”
Doctors couldn't find anything wrong, and Dennis said his vitals were normal. After a few days, it frustrated him so he asked to go to the Cleveland Clinic. Once there, he said the surgeon made sense. There was no heart damage, but somewhere, his heart wasn't getting enough oxygen.
On Feb. 1, he underwent quintuple bypass surgery.
Amazingly, just two weeks later, he was back in the chair in time to watch his son win a fourth conference title. After the match the elder Dennis presented his son with the medal.
“That was a very special moment,” Ressler said, “It was just such a great feeling to see Colin get the win, and see Harry, who has sat in the the seat next to me for so long be able to give it to his son. He's only missed a couple of Colin's matches, so this was special.”
Dennis, who has coached or been an official for over 20 years, has been in the chair ever since.
“The Doctor told me I have to remember to remain calm,” Dennis said. “How do you do that? I love this sport, I love the kids, and get wrapped up in it and get excited. It's been hard to sit back, but coach Ressler occasionally will remind me. God has a reason for everything, it just wasn't my time.”