VAN BUREN'S KALEB SNODGRASS, right, takes a shot at North Baltimore's Cory Noblit during their 285-pound title match at Saturday's Blanchard Valley Conference tournament at McComb High School.
VAN BUREN’S KALEB SNODGRASS, right, takes a shot at North Baltimore’s Cory Noblit during their 285-pound title match at the Blanchard Valley Conference tournament on Feb. 22 at McComb High School. (Photo by Michael Burwell)

By ANDY WOLF

STAFF WRITER

It’s been a senior year full of chaos for Van Buren’s Cade Whitticar and Kaleb Snodgrass.

The two Black Knight state wrestling qualifiers have already tackled some adversity in the fall on the gridiron.

Van Buren’s football team played all of its home football games at Findlay High’s Donnell Stadium, sometimes on Thursday nights, as its home field was being renovated and wasn’t ready for the 2019 season.

The Black Knights made a season-long motto of “embrace the chaos.”

It has, unexpectedly, carried over.

Concerns of the coronavirus brought winter sports to a grinding halt so close to the pinnacle.

The current postponement and possible cancellation of the state wrestling tournaments by the OHSAA only add to the chaos.

Spring sports are in question, too, as both play on Van Buren’s baseball team.

“It’s definitely chaotic and they definitely are embracing it,” Van Buren athletic director and wrestling coach Justin Slauterbeck said. “I don’t think they would’ve told you they would’ve seen the state wrestling tournament postponed, but they’re definitely more apt to handle it than some others around the area because of what they’ve gone through.”

The OHSAA on Thursday held a press conference updating remaining winter tournaments and spring sports, and answering frequently asked questions. OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass said a decision regarding the winter tournaments could be made in a matter of days.

One of those questions included a scenario of one or two winter sports being contested but not the others.

“Weight management is a huge issue for wrestlers,” Jerry Snodgrass said. “Asking them to maintain that during this time where they technically have no workout facilities and to assume that everyone has the opportunity in their home or even in their driveway to stay in shape and keep their weight down, keep within the weight guidelines, is probably not possible.

“So, I think when you combine that with everything else the decision will be forthcoming soon, but will be tied into the other sports (basketball, hockey) as well.”

The Courier’s coverage area saw three Findlay High wrestlers qualify for the state tournament in Division I. One area wrestler did so in Division II and 12 in Division III.

Slauterbeck said his hopes didn’t change from the press conference.

“I kind of expected a ruling basically on the winter sports but obviously we didn’t get that,” he said.

From a logistics standpoint, Slauterbeck acknowledged the safety aspect of giving wrestlers at least three weeks off between the district and state tournaments.

“I still think I’m fairly realistic in knowing the winter sports are going to be canceled and we just have to move on from there, figure out how to handle it,” he said.

Carey wrestling coach Ryan Pratt said he’s “less hopeful” than what he was after the press conference.

“I’m still trying to stay positive,” he said.

Pratt also understands the difficulties of how wrestlers are supposed to work out and wait, some having to maintain a certain weight even longer.

“Just cancel it already, (is) what I’m thinking,” Pratt said in reacting to the press conference. “On the second (thought), it does give hope that it will (go on). I think a lot of wrestlers have probably moved on.”

Carey only qualified one wrestler for state in Tanner May at 182 pounds.

May, a three-time state placer, is by far the winningest wrestler in Carey history at 169 wins to just 24 losses. Ironically, 24 is also the amount of wins between him and the next guy on the list in Jevyn Pratt (145 wins, 2017 grad) — Ryan Pratt’s son.

May, at 38-2 this season, was a state runner-up at 182 as a junior and had high hopes of not only going out as a champion but becoming Carey’s first four-time state placer.

Pratt said May “walks around at about 176 pounds” so weight wasn’t an issue.

May is also fully healthy, too. He forfeited his district final match due to a minor bone bruise in his shoulder sustained in a prior practice.

The challenge now, for Pratt, has been keeping May mentally ready.

“That’s what’s tough,” Pratt said. “‘OK, since Nov. 15 I’ve been grinding and getting in shape and doing everything right.’

“Now, everything is on hold. He’s still in good spirits.”

Slauterbeck has also seen his two seniors take to the situation with much maturity.

“You’re seeing them handle it more mature than some adults are even handling it,” Slauterbeck said, referring to the social media side with a laugh.

“When we were in school, those two were in my office constantly, being pretty positive about the outlook and knowing that they got (to state) and that was part of the goal.”

Once having qualified for state, Slauterbeck said “they don’t do much the week of state” practice-wise because they knew they were prepared.

His athletes are constantly in the weight room all season long in a program designed to reach peak performance right by the Blanchard Valley Conference tournament.

Van Buren won its fifth straight BVC title that way, sent six wrestlers to districts, too, and had two of its seniors wrestling some of their best matches there.

While Kaleb Snodgrass and Whitticar were seeking the same goal, their paths are more different than similar.

Snodgrass (45-4) was the state runner-up at 220 pounds as a junior and bumped up to heavyweight to utilize his speed and athleticism against bigger foes. Thus, making weight isn’t a problem.

Whitticar (37-11) started at 182 and gradually dropped weight to get down to 170 this season.

He couldn’t have drawn a tougher opponent to start his first state tournament — getting the defending champ in Galion Northmor’s Conor Becker (30-0) off the bat.

“(Cade) was ready to go. He was excited for it,” Slauterbeck said. “He knows he was wrestling the best he’s ever wrestled. You just don’t have that opportunity and I don’t see that opportunity presenting itself.”

Wolf, 419-427-8496

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