By JOE CENTERS
Reflector Managing Editor
COLUMBUS — Emotions filled the room Saturday night after South Central’s Payton Oney edged Marco Gualtieri of West Jefferson 5-4 to win the 135-pound Div. III state wrestling title.
For Oney it was a year-long mission after last year’s bitter disappointment.
After competing in Columbus as a freshman and a sophomore, when he placed sixth, Oney slipped up in the district and didn’t qualify.
So he could only sit there and watch last year as Trojan senior Nick Hamilton won the heavyweight crown to become the school’s first wrestling state champion.
It hurt. It really hurt. And Oney wasn’t going to let it happen again.
This time Hamilton was in the stands to watch as Oney captured the gold.
“It means a lot to me,” Oney said. “It’s been my dream the last four years. To finally happen is amazing, overwhelming.”
Oney said last year was the driving force.
“I have no clue how it happened, but it did,’’ he said. “Every day I get in that room I push it and give it everything I’ve got. Anthony Ferber really helped me a lot. He pushes me and I pushed him. Getting him down here on the podium was really fun.
“It’s starting to set in,” Oney said as his eyes teared up. “It was definitely worth the time.”
Ferber, Oney’s classmate, placed fifth at 152 pounds.
Trojan coach Ken Johnson also was overcome with emotion as he talked.
“This program has truly been amazing,” he said.
It started when Oney qualified as a freshmen — becoming the first Trojan to compete in Columbus.
The school then had two qualifiers each of the next three years, capped by back-to-back state champions and two podium finishes this year.
“It’s a privilege to be a part of the program and see it develop,” Johnson said with a long pause. “It’s special, especially for a small school like we are. We only had nine guys in the room and to get two here is special.”