Wrestling: Olentangy Berlin's Caiden Hooks making plans for next season
Caiden Hooks is more than a wrestler, but Olentangy Berlin’s 160-pounder has made his mark in the sport.
The junior, who lost both eyes to retinoblastoma in 2007 and is on the autism spectrum, qualified for the Division I state tournament March 13 and 14 Hilliard Darby. He went 1-2 and is already making plans for next year.
“I’m going to freaking place here next year. I’m going to,” said Hooks, who was a district alternate as a freshman and sophomore. “We set goals in the autumn, and they have to be quantifiable. This year I wanted to go to state and next year it will be to place (in the top eight) at state, if not get in the top four. I have to figure that out but either way I’ll be placing.
“It’s a lot of work but it evidently has paid off. I’m a state qualifier now. I can put that on my record now. (Finishing) 27-8 on the whole is not bad.”
Hooks lost his state opener to Lakewood St. Edward’s Padraic Gallagher by a 17-2 technical fall. Gallagher won the title at 160 in 2019 and is the top-ranked wrestler in the country at his weight.
In the first round of consolation, Hooks was trailing 13-7 in the third period but rallied to pin Vandalia Butler’s Matt Motter in 3 minutes, 44 seconds.
“Things weren’t looking good, and it was trending in the wrong direction,” Hooks said. “I kept getting taken down. I kept getting scored on, but I got the kid in a defensive pin. I got his leg and held on and stopped him from rolling through. I cranked him on his shoulder blades and the ref eventually called it.”
In his second consolation match, he lost to Morrow Little Miami’s Alex Hobbs in an 18-3 technical fall.
Hooks was in high demand at state because he is blind, but he took the attention in stride.
“I think wrestling is something that Caiden does, but it’s not what defines him,” said Jamie Hooks, Caiden’s father and a Berlin assistant coach. “He has so many pieces to his pie. It’s a big piece because he works so hard at it, but it doesn’t define who he is. This season doesn’t define who he is. It’s just a process and another mark in his journey and career.
“The attention has been interesting. I know what kind of kid he is, I know how special he is. He amazes and humbles me on a daily basis with what he does and says. The attention is nice because some other people get to see a sliver of who he is and what he has to offer and what he’s about. I like sharing him.”
Hooks was the first boys wrestler to compete at state for Berlin. Last season, 2020 graduate Corey Hill qualified at 160 and sophomore Evan Butcher made it at 106, but neither got to compete because the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament’s cancellation.
“What people get to see is the story, but they don’t see how much work he puts in,” coach Josh Heffernan said. “They don’t see the challenges on a daily basis, just to get through practice and get through a day at school. He’s just got a great attitude and he works his tail off. It’s a pleasure to coach him, but it’s inspiring to just see how he keeps going after it.
“He doesn’t miss anything in the offseason and he still finds time to do the 50 other things that he’s good at. … He sings in several choirs, he plays the piano, he plays the trumpet and could probably play another instrument if you asked him. He loves to write. He loves to learn. He’s just a very well-rounded person. I love that wrestling is just one part of what he does. He has a huge heart and anyone who talks to him figures that out pretty quick.”
•OCC-Cardinal standings: Marysville (5-0), Hilliard Darby (4-1), Berlin (3-2), Dublin Jerome (2-3), Thomas Worthington (1-4), Olentangy (0-5)
•Seniors lost: Gagan Abadala, Ray Mammadkhanli and Evariste Misseou
•Key returnees: Daniel Barreca, Matt Barreca, Austin Burchinal, Kody Goffin, Caiden Hooks, Matt Kirsop, High Peterson, J.T. Tompkins and Tyler Voinovich
•Postseason: Eighth (96.5) at sectional behind champion Dublin Coffman (277), 22nd (23.5) at district behind champion Coffman (228.5), tied for 61st (3) at state behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (184.5)