Garfield wrestler happy at home

By Tom Hardesty Record-Courier staff writer Published:

It would have been easy for Chris Petersen to travel down a different road in his high school wrestling career.

It would have been easy for the Garfield senior to transfer to another school with a higher wrestling profile, where his exploits would have surely caught more attention from college scouts.

It would have been easy for Petersen to walk away from a Garfield wrestling program that had so few participants that the school board was considering giving it the ax.

Athletes all over Ohio transfer schools every year in every sport for those very same reasons.

But Petersen didn't.

He has stayed in a program that, at the moment, has seven available wrestlers.

He has stayed in a program that is known as Garfield locally, Garrettsville statewide and "Who?" to most wrestling aficionados across Ohio.

He has stayed in a program that would have been easy to leave for any wrestler with Petersen's talent.

The obvious question is: Why?

The answer, basically, is this: Because he likes it at Garfield. That's why.

"I think Garfield has quite a few positives to it," said Petersen. "My coach (Alan Harbert) is always there for me and we go to different schools to practice, so I've been coached by seven or eight different people in the last two years. I feel like I get a lot of different looks that way.

"I've had an opportunity to transfer to four or five different schools, but I didn't want to unless Garfield canceled the wrestling program. When I heard Garfield was going to keep the sport, I was glad. There's nothing wrong with the program here."

Apparently not.

Petersen is currently undefeated this season with a 27-0 record and won the Portage County League championship this past Saturday in the 152-pound weight class. In his three matches at the PCL meet, Petersen won two by pin in 37 seconds and 1:50, and won his other match by default.

He has also won regular-season tournaments this winter at Aurora, Jackson-Milton, Middlefield Cardinal and the rugged Bill Dies Memorial tourney.

All this after a junior season that saw him take fifth in the Division III state tournament at 145 pounds.

Judging by those gaudy accomplishments, Petersen appears to be correct: other than the low turnout, there's nothing wrong with the program at Garfield. It's just fine with him, thank you very much.

"I never was really too worried about him transferring," said Harbert. "We don't have a lot of wrestlers like other schools do, but he still gets plenty of work with us. He usually works out with (Garfield senior) Dave Graf; it's a body for him to roll with and get some different looks. And I roll with him at practice too."

And when the G-Men travel to other schools for workouts, Petersen often gets to go against high-caliber opposition.

"I get a lot of Division I and Division II competition in there, which helps me out a lot," said Petersen. "I doubt I'd get the opportunity to do that if I wrestled somewhere else."

Petersen, who also advanced to state as a sophomore, is dispelling _ make that obliterating _ several notions about small public schools and their wrestling programs. Like Josh Allen of Waterloo and Jerry Stratos of Mogadore before him _ each of whom won individual state titles _ Petersen is proving the grass is just as green at his home school as it is anywhere else.

That's a message he hopes aspiring young wrestlers coming through the Garfield system take to heart.

"I hope I can set an example in wrestling here," said Petersen, "because wrestling at our school isn't exactly a big thing. We've got some really good kids coming up in the middle school, and if they stick with it, they're going to be pretty good."

While Petersen has a boatload of achievements under his belt, there is one unattained goal that, should he reach it, would complete his stellar career: a state championship. Not to mention what it would do for the Garfield wrestling program, which has never had a state champ.

Petersen begins his quest this weekend at the Rootstown Division III sectional.

"That was one of my goals coming into the season," he said. "I want to be Garfield's first state champ, I want to be the first Garfield wrestler to make it to state three times, and I want to be Garfield's first two-time state placer."

Is there additional pressure due to the fact that he has an unblemished record?

"He hasn't shown signs of pressure for being undefeated at this time of year," said Harbert. "I don't think it's really putting extra pressure on him."

Said Petersen: "I kind of just take it one match at a time. Halfway through the season I didn't even know how many wins I had. I really don't pay attention to it that much."

At the moment, Petersen is ranked fifth in his weight class in the Brakeman Report, which rates Ohio's top wrestlers in each weight class in all three divisions. So obviously, there is plenty of quality opposition standing between him and a state title.

"As long as I don't wrestle where I feel I didn't wrestle my best, I'll be satisfied," he said. "Of course, I want to win the state championship. And there's nothing stopping me except myself. If I work hard enough and do what I know I'm capable of doing, I'll be all right."

Win or lose, Petersen wouldn't change the path he's traveled in the past four years. While there are times when he wonders how things would have been different had he left Garfield, he knows in his heart he did the right thing.

"I'm happy with what I chose," he said. "I don't regret it at all."

And that's all that matters.

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