Highland wrestler wins state title as freshman

by Dan Holland

For Hinckley resident and Highland High School freshman Brandon Bickerton, becoming a D-I high school state wrestling champion all came down to a matter of seconds.

During the championship match, held March 10 at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center, Bickerton, who wrestles in the 106-pound weight class, was trailing by one point to Perrysburg High School’s Ayden Dodd. Just prior to the final buzzer, Bickerton leaped over Dodd, grabbing him for a take down to score two points for a last-second 6-5 win and the state title.

While some are characterizing Bickerton’s acrobatic last-second move as a “flying squirrel,” first-year Highland head wrestling coach David Habat has another term for it.

“We call it the ‘Highland Helicopter,’” said Habat. “He didn’t do a front flip over his opponent like a flying squirrel; he kind of side-torpedoed over the top. It was more of a standing go-behind.”

“It’s a very unorthodox move; it’s crazy to see a move like that in a wrestling match at all, and even crazier to see that move in the final seconds of a state finals match,” he added. “I’ve never seen someone land a move like that in the final seconds of a state finals match, and I’ve been watching wrestling for many years. You could not have a flashier way of winning a match ever.”

“It is an amazing feeling to win a state title,” said Bickerton, who also won two state titles while at Highland Middle School. “Highland High School has never had a Division I state champion before, and for me to be the first is an honor. After winning this state title, I will be coming for three more and have the opportunity to be a four-time OHSAA state wrestling champion.”

Bickerton previously defeated Dodd at the Perrysburg Invitational on Jan. 10 with an overtime takedown in sudden victory for a 6-5 victory. He became the state’s #1-ranked wrestler at 106 pounds following the win.

“There are so many good coaches and good programs out there, and many of them never have a state champion, but I managed to get one in my first year,” said Habat. “Brandon is a special kid. He’s an excellent wrestler and also a very good person. I’m very proud of him. When you see someone put the hard work in and it pays off, it’s the best feeling in the world.

“In wrestling, you’re not promised anything – if you want something, you have to go and take it,” Habat continued. “With Brandon hitting the flying squirrel; that’s him going and just taking it. To pull off a move like that means that he really wanted it and wasn’t ever giving up. He wrestled to the very last second and went after it. That’s probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced wrestling-wise.”

Brandon’s twin brother, Austin, finished in sixth place at the state title tournament in the 113-pound weight class.

Habat said he expects to see continued improvement for the team as a whole next year.

“We’re always looking to get better, and we had kids place in the state tournament, but I like to look at it as short-term as possible,” he said. “I know what the long-term goal is; it would be great for Brandon to repeat, and it would be great for Austin to become a state champion. We have three state qualifiers who are returning, and I would like to get them as high on the podium as possible.”

“I just want these guys to get better at wrestling and to enjoy the sport,” Habat added. “We had a fantastic year, so result-wise, I’d like for us to improve, but it’s not all about results. These kids had a fun year, and they want to get better at wrestling, so we just want to keep moving in that direction.” ∞

Photo: Brandon Bickerton shows a deep double-leg takedown on his way to an 8-5 opening round victory over Luke Green of Aurora. Bickerton, a freshman at Highland, went 42-5 for the season, first in the State of Ohio. Photo by Bruce Hulme.