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To wrestling community, Joe is not just average

This past weekend, the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League had its annual tournament at Fitch High School in Austintown. It has become quite an event, as the league has grown to 25 teams spanning seven different counties in Northeast Ohio. This year, wrestling fans once again got to witness some of the best wrestlers in the state of Ohio right in our own backyard.

However, there is an important story to be written within that narrative, and it must be done from someone outside of the media circle. You see, this year the league decided to honor a member of the local media for the first time in over 20 years. So, as we celebrate the incredible run that our state-ranked wrestlers are having as the postseason approaches, we have a lot of people to honor — one of the most important being Joe Simon.

Joe, a sports reporter for The Tribune Chronicle, was inducted into the EOWL Hall of Fame on Saturday night. If it were up to him, no one would ever read about it. But luckily, it’s not up to him.

So for Joe, and on behalf of all the wrestlers, parents, fans, officials, and wrestling coaches of the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League, we say, “Thank you!” Thank you for your dedication in helping to promote our student-athletes and wrestling programs for the last 15 years.

As a graduate of Liberty High School and Kent State University, Joe began covering local sports in 2004, though his love for sports started much earlier than that. Joe began wrestling in fourth grade and continued every year through high school. Joe was a two-time all-league wrestler and a senior captain with the Liberty Leopards.

He began coaching immediately after high school, starting with the Liberty youth program. He was a varsity assistant in 2012 helping to coach Liberty to a league title. He then took over as Liberty’s middle school head coach in 2013 and has held that position ever since.

Joe has been covering Mahoning Valley wrestling as a sports reporter for the Tribune Chronicle (and now Vindicator) since 2004. He has not missed an EOWL tournament or a state tournament in the last 17 seasons.

For many years, he wrote in-depth preseason and postseason reviews for area wrestling teams. Many felt his previews were the “official start of wrestling season” — a time fans look forward to all year.

His sincere love for the sport has led to strong relationships with local wrestling programs. Sometimes, before an interview, he will even lace up his wrestling shoes and get on the mat with the interviewee. This isn’t out of ego; he wants to truly understand how good these kids are and to gain their respect. It works.

When I arrived in Canfield in 1999, there were a handful of local reporters who would cover wrestling, but many not by choice. I remember beat writers showing up to matches in the early 2000s asking questions like, “Who do you play tonight?” or “Where is the ring?” It was obvious they knew very little about the sport.

However, there were journalists who sincerely covered wrestling over the last two decades — Mark Miller and Brian Dzenis come to mind. But these writers always looked to Joe Simon for guidance when they got to the EOWL and postseason tournaments.

Joe did most of the heavy lifting to help wrestling become a sport covered by the local mainstream media. He has helped educate our valley on the particulars of wrestling when no one else thought it was worthy of good coverage.

He always had an open mind and sincerely wanted to grow the sport through stories of interest focused on our student-athletes. With his help, we created the EOWL Media Day. This brings all local state qualifiers to one location, so the media can provide coverage without having to travel to several different schools.

Joe is part of an inner circle that is pretty special, and as wrestling grows, other local media outlets have Joe to thank for opening that door. For example, we appreciate WKBN’s efforts to cover wrestling on television. Chad Krispinsky and Ryan Allison have done an incredible job expanding the sports coverage in the Mahoning Valley. As coverage grows, interest grows and the sport grows. A big thanks to all local media who have covered countless student-athletes and have allowed them to be recognized for their efforts on and off the mat.

One of the things our student-athletes will tell us is they always feel comfortable when Joe interviews them, because he isn’t trying to make them look bad. He is very aware of the insecurities of most high school athletes who aren’t used to being interviewed by the media.

During conversations with coaches and athletes, he truly lives in the moment of their stories. Because of this sincerity, he has ended up creating lifelong friendships with so many local coaches and student-athletes. In that regard, he has helped educate a generation of local wrestlers on how to handle themselves in a public forum.

Recently, Joe accepted the position as the football head coach at Liberty High School. I applaud Liberty for choosing such a role model — a person who will care more about the student-athletes’ development as young men of the Liberty community rather than just wins and losses.

Parents and alumni of the Liberty football program, you have a young man who will devote countless hours to the development of a culture that focuses on your community. And what you don’t know yet … you’ve already won! Coach Simon is highly competitive, but never at the expense of integrity.

On behalf of the wrestling community, thank you for not being just a regular Joe.

Dean Conley was the wrestling head coach at Canfield from 1999 through his retirement in 2017.

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