Thomas duo set for big stage
Fresh off their first season on the Thomas Worthington High School wrestling team, Ben Hooff and James Ford are leaving the comforts of home to compete across the country and overseas.
The pair will represent Team Ohio in the Cadet and Junior National Championships scheduled for Friday, July 13, through July 21 at the FargoDome in Fargo, N.D. Hooff and Ford then head to England, where they will compete in a series of international matches in early August.
Although they have just one year of high school experience, both have been seasoned on the USA Wrestling club circuit. The national governing body for amateur wrestling, USA Wrestling separates athletes on style and age. Wrestlers can compete in either freestyle or Greco-Roman, and ages are divided by two-year increments. Hooff and Ford competed in the schoolboy division the past two seasons and have moved up to the cadet level. Wrestlers in that class must be born in 1996 or 1997.
Ford is excited to test his skills against new opponents.
"I'm just looking forward to the competition and being able to wrestle at a higher level," he said. "There are going to be kids older than you, they're going to be tough. But it's going to be fun (wrestling) against kids that are just as tough as you."
To qualify for the national tournament, the duo delivered three top-four finishes in the Ohio Cadet and Junior State Championships on May 12 and 13. Held at Western Brown High School outside of Cincinnati, Ford captured the freestyle state championship in the 220-pound class and placed second in Greco-Roman.
Hooff qualified with a fourth-place finish at 138 in the Greco-Roman style.
"I think I learned a lot about my set of moves, ones that I can go to from my experiences in states," Hooff said. "That will definitely help me a lot."
Unlike high school wrestling, which operates under collegiate wrestling rules, the Cadet and Junior National Championships feature both freestyle and Greco-Roman matches. Freestyle more closely resembles collegiate wrestling, in which the use of the wrestler's and his opponent's legs are allowed in offensive and defensive moves. Greco-Roman, however, is based on the upper body.
Hooff and Ford each wrestle for the Columbus Wrestling Club once the high school season ends, and Hooff believes their preparation with the club could pay dividends in the national tournament.
"We're practicing just straight freestyle and Greco-Roman. We're not doing too much with only the high school style," he said. "So I think just training and putting our mindset on Greco and freestyle will really get us into it, and we should do well."
The national tournament draws thousands of competitors, and the top eight in each weight class and style will be recognized as All-Americans. In spite of the talent pool, both wrestlers, who will be sophomores at Thomas in the fall, are looking to make their mark.
"My goal is to become an All-American, place in the top eight out there and hopefully get recognized by a college (coach)," Hooff said.
"I just want to go out there and do my best," Ford said. "And hopefully I will become an All-American. It's tough competition out there, so you never know."
Once the national championships have concluded, Hooff and Ford will embark on a 10-day tour of England. Representing Team Ohio and USA Wrestling, they will join a training camp for five days before a series of matches against the British and Canadian national teams.
"I'm excited. I think it's going to be really fun," Ford said. "Anyone can wrestle in the United States, but to get to go over to another country and just participate in the sport that you love doing, it's just, 'Wow.'"
Before returning home, Team Ohio will sightsee and watch the Summer Olympics. Their Olympic itinerary includes attending the freestyle wrestling competition.
"I'm most excited to see the Olympics," Hooff said. "Hopefully we can see someone from America win it. That'd be nice."