COLUMBUS, Ohio — You’ve got to start somewhere, same as the case was a half-dozen years ago.
In its sixth year as a varsity program, South Gallia made its debut at the state tournament this past weekend at the 2022 OHSAA Division III Championships being held at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of the Ohio State University.
Junior Reece Butler — the first-ever sectional champion (2021) in school history — officially put the Rebels on the Ohio map Friday by becoming the first athlete to compete at the state wrestling tournament.
Butler — who competed at 126 pounds — ultimately finished the weekend winless after being pinned by Waynedale freshman Caden Shmeltzer in the opening round. Butler later dropped a 9-2 decision to Gibsonburg freshman Antonio Salazar in the consolation round opener.
Butler — who was second at sectionals and fourth at districts in getting into the 85th annual event — completes his junior campaign with a 39-13 overall mark.
Reece is the third South Gallia grappler in history to ever advance to the district level twice in a career, joining Chad Bostic and his older brother Justin. The Butler borthers are the only two grapplers to win a match at the district level, while Bostic is the only Tri-Valley Conference champion in program history.
The younger Butler — who was a runner-up at 126 pounds in the TVC this past season — noted that being the first wrestler in South Gallia history to make it to state is a dream come true, but he also mentioned the motivation that he’s taking away in just competing in a venue that is as grand as this one.
“It’s definitely something that is special to me and my family. My brother wrestled here for four years and never made it here, but he was here today with my family to watch and root me on. They were all out there with me, same as all of the old teammates and current teammates that I’ve had. It’s been a special day for a lot of people, and all of that work paid off,” Butler said. “In being here once now, I’m ready to work on coming back here next year. The best of the best getting after it in front of all of these fans. It’s overwhelming at first, but it’s something special to be a part of.
“The thing that is extra special about all of this is that I didn’t know if I was even going to have the chance to wrestle at the beginning of the year. Luckily, with some help from the folks over at River Valley and my coach, we were able to make this season a possibility. I think we’d all agree that it worked out pretty well in the end … and I am truly thankful for getting to have this season.”
SGHS coach Paul Polcyn, now completing his sixth full season, tended to agree with his pupil about how much of a significant role River Valley played in helping Butler — and a handful of other grapplers — in competition this winter.
“This is my fifth year with Reece, including a couple of years at the junior high level. I will say, I did expect him to get here eventually. I also began to wonder at the beginning of the year if he’d have the chance this season, but I can tell you that he would have made it up here — rather it was at South Gallia or somewhere else,” Polcyn said. “Those Butler boys, they are tough boys. They’ve been raised on a farm and they understand what hard work is, so I’m not surprised to see Reece doing what he’s done this year. And kudos to the River Valley kids that practiced with Reece, because they really pushed him to get better every day in practice. River Valley should probably get as much or more credit for Reece being here at state as me.”
South Gallia did not score a point in the final Division III standings, but 83 other teams managed a single point by the end of the 3-day event.
Legacy Christian won the D-3 championship with 136 points, while Milan Edison was the overall runner-up with 78 points. River Valley joined both Adena and Reading in a tie for 47th place with 11 points each.
Editor’s Note: A recap of River Valley’s weekend at the 2022 OHSAA Division III Championships will appear in the Wednesday sports edition of the Gallipolis Daily Tribune, Point Pleasant Register and The Daily Sentinel.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.