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ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio wrestling program has been celebrating its 100th anniversary throughout the 2018-19 season. That celebration culminated in the raising of the singlets of its four national champions to the rafters of the Convocation Center last Saturday (Feb. 9) during the Bobcats' regular season home finale against Mid-American Conference foe SIUE.
"It was unbelievable," said 22nd-year head coach Joel Greenlee. "To have four national champions at a Mid-American Conference school and to have three of them back to have their singlets hung in the rafters, what a way to honor them. It's good for the current guys to see that it can be done at Ohio."
The names of Ohio's four national champions are now prominently displayed in the Convo rafters -- Kermit Blosser (1932; 191 pounds), Harry Houska (1964; 191 pounds), Andy Daniels (1978; 118 pounds) and Dwight Gardner (1998; 158 pounds). Houska, Daniels and Gardner were all in attendance to watch their banners unveiled.
"It was a little bit of surreal experience," said Gardner. "Coming in here as a young guy, I never would have thought my name would be going up in the rafters one day. It was a really monumental type of feeling."
The weekend allowed Garnder to reflect on his journey from unknown prospect from Florida to national champion.
"I was the type of wrestler that wanted to be the best, but I was also a little bit realistic," said Gardner. "Coming from Florida, everybody passed me over. Nobody recruited me, so I didn't know how I was going to do. It was a big question mark. My goals were always to start on the team and help the team score as much points as possible. Did I have national championships in my sight? I don't think I really had that until maybe my junior year when I really started to get up and wrestle with the top-notch guys and realized I could compete with them."
Gardner, who earned both MAC Wrestler of the Year and MAC Outstanding Championship Wrestler honors in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and '98, entered the 1998 NCAA Championships in Cleveland having placed seventh the year before. He wanted to prove that wrestlers like himself could not only compete, but win, on the national stage.
"Coming from the MAC, we were a little bit of an underdog, so it was nice to upset a lot of those bigger Big Ten teams," said Gardner It was fun. We were always a little bit under ranked and not respected as much, so I just wanted to put a stamp on it and show that the MAC's got some tough wrestling. I wanted to prove that. We only took two guys to nationals, but we finished ninth, and we went 9-1."
With Sean Enright placing second at 134 pounds at the 1998 NCAA Championships combined with Gardner's national title, the Bobcats went 9-1 and tied for ninth place despite sending just two wrestlers to nationals. Garnder and Enright were among around 40 of the program's alumni who made the trip to Athens to celebrate the 100-year anniversary. During the match against Old Dominion on Friday (Feb. 8), the Bobcats honored several of their All-Americans.
"I think it's really cool to see all of the guys from the past and put faces with names and get to actually know the people that you've been striving to be like for so long," said Garnder.
The 100th anniversary celebration of Ohio's wrestling program connected the past with the present, as the former wrestlers had the opportunity to meet the current members of the team that they still follow.
"This was a great experience to get to watch them live because you always read up on them, but it's a little different when you see them live and you can kind of help them and give a word of advice here or there," said Garnder. "That might take them over the hump and make them MAC champs or even NCAA All-American."