(Posted March 16, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
The first time Antwaun Burns experienced the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s state wrestling tournament, he hadn’t yet reached double digits in age.
His uncle, Richard Burns, ran a youth wrestling program at the time and treated his young proteges to a trip to Columbus each year to watch the big dogs compete at the state level. Those trips planted a seed.
“Ever since he was a kid, it has always been Antwaun’s goal to go out there and compete and win,” said Richard, who now serves as London High School’s head wrestling coach alongside Assistant Coach Aaron Akers.
That is exactly what Antwaun, now a senior at London, has done over the course of his wrestling career, including three trips to state. He placed fourth in his weight class at state his freshman year and third his junior year.
This year, he realized the ultimate goal he set for himself as a freshman.
“When I first got to high school and found out London had never had a state champion in wrestling, I wanted to be the first,” he said.
Antwaun became London’s first boys’ state wrestling champion at the 85th Annual State Wrestling Tournament held March 11-13 at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus. He emerged from the three-day contest as the top performer in the 157-pound weight class in Div. II.
“I am beyond proud of him,” said Richard who, while technically Antwaun’s uncle, has helped to raise him and Antwaun’s twin brother, Antonio, also a state qualifier. The pride he has for both boys is not only that of a coach but of a father figure.
Going into the meet, Antwaun was ranked third in the state. On his way to becoming champion, he beat the first-, second- and fourth-ranked wrestlers. He was especially happy with his victory in the semi-finals over senior Logan Ours, a nationally ranked wrestler from Beaver Local.
When it came to the match that would determine the champion, Antwaun said he thought back to the days when he and his youth teammates would make those trips to the Schott.
“Watching the state finals when we were younger was one thing, then doing it was a whole other feeling,” he said.
Antwaun capped off his state run with a win over Gunner Cramblett, a sophomore from St. Paris Graham to whom he lost in the district finals the week before state. The London contingent of fans erupted in cheers. Richard hoisted Antwaun in the air in a bear hug. Antwaun was all smiles and fist pumps.
“It feels great,” he said of the win and his new place in the school history books. “I want to thank the London community and everyone who came out to support us and everyone who was at home supporting. They were rooting for all of us to do our best.”
Antwaun’s victory wasn’t the only piece of school history made on March 13. In addition to his brother, Antonio, Antwaun made the trip to state with two other fellow seniors, Thadd Huff and Brady Fisher. The tight-knit foursome dyed their hair blond, as has become tradition at London for state qualifiers ever since Richard mentioned he dyed his hair when he wrestled at state in his high school days. Together, bright hair and all, they placed seventh as a team, the highest state finish for a London wrestling team.
“We just wanted to make the best of our last run,” Antwaun said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other guys. When we’re all together, it’s always fun and a lot of laughs, and when it is time to get serious, we put in the work.”
Thadd Huff became a two-time state placer, taking third in the 285-pound class. Last year, he placed fourth. While his sights were set on taking first this year, he said he is happy with the results, which included a win over the returning state champ in the semi-finals.
“To finish off my career with wins and beating the returning state champ felt really good,” he said. “Overall, I’m so happy for Antwaun. It’s been really cool being teammates with him since we were really young. And Rich has been my coach all along. Finishing it all off on a really high note was just a really great feeling for me and just everybody.”
Going into his third of five matches of the tournament, Brady Fisher found himself in the same position he was in at last year’s state tourney against the same opponent, Collin Twigg of Wauseon. The person who won would make the podium; the person who lost would go home with nothing. In 2021, the two faced off in the 106-pound class. Twigg won the match in the last 10 seconds with a takedown. This year, they competed at 113 pounds, and it was Fisher’s turn for a late-match victory.
“I was down one point. I chose the bottom (position). With 20 seconds left, I got a reverse and rode him out as time expired to win 2-1,” Fisher recounted.
He went on to finish seventh. He said it “felt great” to finally place at state, something he’s been working toward his whole high school career. He also said he is processing the idea that this part of his wrestling journey is over.
“I’ve been with these guys pretty much my whole life, pretty much since peewee… It’s crazy that it’s all over now. Those guys are like family to me,” he said.
Antonio feels the same way and is proud of what he and his teammates have accomplished.
“It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of long nights of hard work to get where we did,” he said.
Antonio wrestled two matches at state in the 215-pound weight class. He lost the first one 1-2 in triple overtime and the second one 0-5. Though he didn’t place, he said he is thankful to have finally gotten the full Schottenstein state experience.
“I didn’t make it to state my freshman year. The tournament was cancelled because of COVID my sophomore year. My junior year, the tourney was held at a high school,” he said. “Finally, this year, it was back at the Schott. Words can’t really explain what it’s like coming out of that tunnel. It’s different for sure.”
“I’m extremely happy for all four of these guys,” Richard said. “They have been part of making history in London since they were freshmen.”
That first year, they and their teammates won the school district’s first league, sectional and regional duals titles. The regional title also made them the first London squad to qualify as a team for the state duals. They’ve went on to register some of the highest state places as individuals in school history and, now, the highest team finish at state.
“Those boys have set the bar for the rest to come,” Richard said. “It’s exciting for them to leave something behind for all these kids to look up to. They showed that you don’t have to go to a big school program to have the opportunity to win a state title. They can do it right here in London.”
Richard thanked London City Schools and the London community for their support of the wrestling program and for supporting student-athletes “to be better, not just on the football field or in the wrestling room, but in the classroom, as well.”
All four seniors who competed at state this year have received multiple offers to wrestle at the college level.