Traditions stand strong

HOWLAND – There is a lot of tradition involved with the Howland Invitational, the second longest running tournament in Ohio.

The event, which is now in its 52nd year, always runs on the third Saturday in January, and the teams involved, a select group from western Pennsylvania and specific areas in northeast Ohio, usually remain the same on a yearly basis.

But there is one ceremony not many people outside of Howland know about, according to Howland coach Bill Beasom. It involves a social gathering at Leon’s Sports Bar and Grille and a top-10 list put together by a few of the tournament employees.

The topic of this year’s list was an easy one for those workers: The top 10 reasons the wrestling room was named after longtime wrestling coach Barry Reinhardt. While the contents of that list remain unknown, it’s a good bet that one of them is “because the program uses his blueprint on a yearly basis.”

That outline led to something else that is becoming a formality – Howland winning the annual event.

The Tigers rolled to a ninth-consecutive first-place finish on a night when their legendary coach was honored for his dedicated service and longstanding success at Howland.

Reinhardt, who received a plaque that is to placed above the hallway entering the wrestling room, led the Tigers for 16 seasons, accumulating a 135-37 record from 1983 to 1999. He helped develop eight state placers, one state champion and created a system that is still used annually, 12 years after he stepped down as head coach. He’s remained on staff as an assistant since that time.

“What I’m trying to do is just continue the traditions of winning at Howland,” said current Howland coach Bill Beasom, who wrestled for Reinhardt before graduating in 1991. “We try to treat each kid fairly, whether he’s a state champ or a role player. I’m still trying to learn from (Reinhardt). I’ve been very fortunate to have him as a mentor. I’ve been coaching with him since I graduated, so I’ve tried to be a sponge and absorb as much as I can from him.”

Beasom’s ability to interpret what he learned to the current Howland wrestlers seems to be working. Five Tigers placed first at the 10-team tournament and four others took second as Howland’s 197 points were well ahead of second-place Girard’s 133.

Seniors Alex Cornicelli and Gabe Stark both won for the third straight year, a feat that has only been accomplished by eight other wrestlers in the program’s 57 years.

“They have a wealth of talent,” Beasom said of the two captains. “They’re very good and very skilled at what they do, and to have them as captains and leaders on our team is making us successful.

“Today they were phenomenal. Gabe had three pins and Corni had two and a really decisive match in the finals. They did what we expected them to do.”

David Brian Whisler (152 pounds), Jordan Radich (160) and Cody Davis (170) also claimed titles for the Tigers, who finished with three more champions than any other team. As well as they did, and as much as Reinhardt tried to deflect the attention back to the wrestlers, it was hard not to focus on the legendary coach on this night. Numerous former wrestlers packed the stands in anticipation of the ceremony, which took place before the start of the finals, and while it’s normal for dozens of Howland wrestling alumni to attend the event, Saturday was more crowded with old faces than usual.

“It was quite an honor,” Reinhardt said. “I’ve never coached to get honors or rewards. I coach because I have a passion for the sport and all people involved in the sport of wrestling. It was a labor of love more than anything. I’m really appreciative, especially of all those wrestlers who have come through the program and came back tonight, knowing that I was going to be honored.”