Senior Bo Branson's scheduled path to the Division I state wrestling tournament included a tribute reserved for many successful Pickerington Central teams in recent years.
A chain-link fence on the east side of state Route 256 about a mile south of Interstate 70 was adorned with dozens of Styrofoam cups that spelled "Go Bo G.L. at state," with "good luck" abbreviated.
Those cups remained on the fence into late March, although Branson's successful run with the Tigers ended when the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be postponed from its original dates of March 13-15 at Ohio State and then canceled March 26.
"My parents actually put those up," Branson said. "I even got a picture with it. I didn't know they were doing it. It was great to see that, knowing that the entire town will see what I accomplished for my school and my community."
Still, it was bittersweet for Branson, whose successful high school career included two state berths and well more than 100 wins.
Branson, a Findlay recruit who wrestled at 126 pounds, finished 36-9 this season and had a career record of 125-34. He finished third at a sectional Feb. 29 at Newark and fourth in the district tournament held March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state, which was postponed March 12, one day before it was scheduled to begin.
"Unfortunately, that was the decision, but it's the right decision as well. Health is more important than winning a state championship," coach Jason Allen said. "Bo was disappointed and in his mind, he was questioning if he could even call himself a state qualifier if he didn't get to go and actually wrestle. I reminded him nobody can take that achievement away from him. He put in the work and earned (a state berth). I know he'll take that disappointment and turn it into a positive going forward."
Branson earned his second state berth and first since his sophomore season, when he went 0-2 at 106. He finished fifth at district as a junior and was a state alternate but did not compete.
"I was heartbroken," Branson said of the state tournament being postponed and later canceled. "I'd been in the room for a few weeks, perfecting my technique and trying to put the cherry on top of a few moves before the whole corona hype. To find out all of the work kind of went for nothing, I was very upset."
Classmate Marcus Zullo placed fifth at district at 152 and finished the season 20-5.
State alternates compete if an automatic qualifier is unable to do so.
Among those eligible to return are juniors Nick Chesser (160), Cameron Griffith (220), Garrett Meek (heavyweight) and Brycen Rogers (106), sophomore Mehki Hargrow (138) and freshmen Noah Doran (145), Dylan Downey (132) and Onyedikach Ikwuakami (182).
Rogers finished 22-10 and Meek went 21-10.
Allen also announced that his 11-year tenure as Tigers coach came to an end when the state tournament was canceled.
Under Allen, Central won outright OCC-Ohio Division championships in 2011 and 2014, shared the league title with Pickerington North in 2013 and had 11 state qualifiers, including a state champion in Joseph Terry (170) in 2016.
Allen previously coached at Reynoldsburg from 2002-10, leading the Raiders to Division I district championships from 2006-08, and Franklin Heights in 1999-2000 before spending two seasons as an assistant at Dublin Coffman and Thomas Worthington.
Allen won the state title at 125 in 1993 as a senior at Worthington Kilbourne and was part of Oklahoma State's national title team the next year.
"I've been at this a while. I think it's time for a break," said Allen, whose father, Pete, was an assistant coach. "It's been a great run."