Not many area athletes have beaten the odds to win a state championship such as Elyria High’s Tim Sweigard. The wrestler didn’t get started in his sport until junior high, was unable to crack the starting lineup twice during his six-year career and had to face a pair of state runners-up to capture the title.
For his accomplishments on the mat and on the football field, Sweigard will be inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night along with Elyria High’s Jesse Verhoff, Elyria Catholic’s Dr. Dave Krol and Mike Kozma, Elyria West’s TJ Staton and the 1964 EHS football team. Jim Tomsic will be given the group’s Distinguished Service award.
Sweigard spent his childhood immersed in sports and began competing in most of them with his two older brothers.
“Both of my parents were teachers, so the summers were ours,” he said. “We spent the whole summer competing in some form or the other. We always wanted to top each other.”
It helped that his father coached several sports — Sweigard believes he helped coach many of the players on the Pioneers’ 1964 squad — and that he put in countless hours by the elder Sweigard’s side learning the ins and outs of each.
The sibling battles were fun-loving yet intense, so Sweigard was excited about blazing a trail in wrestling — a sport his brothers had never participated in.
“That’s how I got into it,” he said. “I didn’t want to compete in a sport where I always had to follow their records.”
Sweigard began learning technique while standing on the sideline during his seventh-grade season, then came out and won the city championship during his eighth- and ninth-grade years.
“I had very good balance and that seemed to give me an advantage on guys that were trying to outmuscle me,” he said.
When Sweigard hit the high school wrestling room, he again found himself behind superior talent and was stuck competing in junior varsity matches.
“It’s kind of a blur,” he said. “I remember competing, but I couldn’t tell you my record my sophomore year. The JVs had fewer matches back then. They had a pretty solid (varsity) team. If I was good enough, then they would have pulled us up.”
Sweigard was good enough as a junior to make it to the state tournament, but lost in his second match.
“It was at St. John’s Arena in Columbus and I’d never been to an arena that large in my life,” he said. “We walked in and walked on the main floor and you kind of felt like the Hoosiers thing down there. It was so big. I was kind of overwhelmed at the time, and I don’t think I was ready.
“I had a good season, but it was just good enough to get me down there.”
While his wrestling skills improved year by year, Sweigard was also excelling for the Pioneers on the football field. He moved from fullback to defensive end for his senior season, and saw how wrestling could benefit him in his new position.
“Keeping your balance and keeping people off of you with your hands and arms ... it seemed to go hand in hand,” said Sweigard, whose main drill partner in the wrestling room was LSU football coach Les Miles. “I think it made a difference in both sports my senior year.
“I think I had some of my quickest pins as the result of the pancake move, which is all leverage, getting them to push on you and then all of a sudden turning their weight and forcing yourself against them.”
Sweigard had plenty of them as a senior, going undefeated during the regular season. He suffered his first loss to Valley Forge’s Rich Schultz early in the sectional tournament, but battled back to take third.
“In sectionals I was sick as a dog,” Sweigard said. “I had a fever, some flu or something. I didn’t have to lose weight that week because I was sweating so much.”
Sweigard lost his second match of the season in the district final to Berea’s Kevin Kilgore, but said he received an unusual pep talk after the defeat.
“It was funny because I remember one of my friends going, ‘Well, this is looking good,’” Sweigard said. “I said, ‘What are you talking about ... I just lost.’ He said, ‘Well, you were third (at sectionals) then you were second (at districts) and now you’re on your way to first (at state).’”
The field was packed at 175 pounds in Columbus, including returning state champion Mike Daniels of Cincinnati Hughes, returning 175-pound state runner-up Kevin Quigley of Westlake, returning 185-pound state runner-up Reggie Haynes of Toledo Scott and state placer Ken Hansen of Cincinnati Moeller.
Sweigard met Quigley for the first time in his career in the semifinals, and the Demons star’s throw of Sweigard off the mat left the Elyria wrestler with a concussion.
“He had taken the move so far that I hit my head on the ground,” Sweigard said. “I remember going into the locker room and clearing the cobwebs.
“The option was if I couldn’t continue, the other guy would have to forfeit and I’d win the match, but I wouldn’t be able to continue to wrestle. So in order to go to the finals, I had to continue. So I finished that match and I beat him.”
Next up was Haynes.
“It was a quiet match to some extent,” Sweigard said. “I just remember how strong he was. He had a grip that I thought might break my arm. I was holding on to him for dear life. I don’t know if I’ve ever worked so hard. I was so exhausted.”
Sweigard held off Haynes and won the state title, then went over to celebrate with Elyria coach Bill Pierson.
“I had to work that whole year to get down to 175,” Sweigard said. “We didn’t know anything about nutrition. We just didn’t eat and didn’t drink water until we got down to the weight.
“I finished that match and I’m just all smiles and I’m over with the coach, and Coach Pierson looks at me and said, ‘What a great job. You know ... I think you would have had an easier time at 185 this year.’
“I said, ‘I could just kill you. All that weight ... I could’ve been eating steaks.’”
Sweigard wrestled for Pierson for a year at Lorain County Community College — the site of Saturday’s banquet — and eventually moved to Central Florida to help run a couple restaurants. He’s spent the last 25 years at Morton Electric in Winter Park, Fla., where he’s currently the personnel director.
Sweigard will attend the induction banquet with his wife, Julia, who he met at Northwood Junior High.
“She was my wrestling cheerleader in the eighth grade,” he said.