By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
Ryan Solomon, you just won a sixth-place medal in one of the toughest state championship tournaments in the nation. What are you going to do next?
That was three years ago, and the first place the then 189-pounder went was back to the mat room.
What for most would have been a shining moment in Hershey’s Giant Center was a major disappointment for Milton’s Solomon.
“I definitely wasn’t satisfied with getting sixth in the state,” Solomon said this week as he prepared for his fourth and final trip to Hershey, where he won the state title at 195 pounds last season and took silver at 220 as a sophomore.
Long after that disappointment, the senior stands alongside — and is about to pass — one of the greatest wrestlers in PIAA history.
That would be Milton’s four-time state champion Bobby Crawford, whose school-record 138 wins Solomon equaled in last week’s Northeast Region 195-pound championship.
If Solomon (36-0) beats Saucon Valley junior Justin Blobe (34-11) in this morning’s preliminaries, he will have the record to himself.
He will also be on his way to becoming a four-time state place-winner.
Perhaps it was that lack of satisfaction in losing that has helped put Solomon and Crawford together at the top.
Crawford, a champion in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993, has coached in the Milton program for 13 years, most recently at the elementary level.
He did not coach Solomon, but he has been around to offer advice, and he sees a lot of himself in the University of Pittsburgh recruit.
“That kind of relates to how I was,” Crawford said this week of Solomon’s frustration in Hershey four years ago. “He absolutely hates to lose — you saw that all the way up through elementary school.
“The other benefit that he has is he pushes himself; he doesn’t need family or parents or coaches constantly pushing him in the right direction,” Crawford said. “At a young age, he realized what he wanted to do and he was able to motivate himself.”
Solomon doesn’t remember at what age he first learned about Crawford and his exploits as a Black Panther, but knows he was pretty young. “If you were a kid in Milton, you definitely knew the name ‘Bobby Crawford.’ He was definitely one of those guys you looked up to pretty much your whole life,” he said.
“I always kind of dreamed when I was a little kid to win a PIAA gold and when I started having success in junior high and senior high, I started thinking about it, and reality struck me and I was like ‘Oh, I can do this.’’’
A lot goes into making a top-quality wrestler, and Crawford and Milton coach Mike Snyder, himself a state place-winner for the Black Panthers in 1997, have their own ideas.
Said Snyder, “If anyone wants to know how to raise a champion on and off of the mat, I suggest they send them to (Solomon’s parents) Greg and Kelly Solomon.
“I remember when I was coaching junior high at Milton about 10 years ago and Ryan would come in for workouts and many times you saw the frustration on his face when he was taking beatings from older, more mature, kids,” Snyder said.
“But sitting on the benches, not allowing him to quit, and encouraging him to strive for more, was his dad. They were there from the start and made him what he is today,” the coach added.
Crawford said, “He loves the sport. It’s pretty easy to be good at something when you love it the way we do.
“For me, you’ve got to love it (because) sometimes it’s downright not a lot of fun,” said Crawford.
Both Solomon and Crawford said they never looked at records or win totals, only worrying about winning the next match and winning championships.
“Winning a state title was my goal all through high school, and, for Ryan, I think it’s similar. He has a goal in mind and after it’s all said and done, if he breaks the record or owns the record, so be it.”
Crawford, a systems analyst at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, was unable to attend the match when Solomon tied his record, but, as always, he will be in Hershey this week.
“I couldn’t think of a better individual (to break the record). He is a perfect role model for our program, from our elementary and junior high systems, and he is a leader on the team that he’s on and I couldn’t think of a better individual to break the record,” Crawford added.
Neither could Snyder. “It is easy to see the wrestling abilities and credentials of Ryan Solomon, but, unless you are around him you don’t get to see his character and integrity.
“I don’t know if I have ever been around a more humble high school athlete than Ryan.”
Snyder added, “People joke around with him all of the time about his domination on the mat and I never heard him once boast or brag. He just nods his head or jokes back.”
Solomon certainly would have reason to brag. He has pinned his way through the postseason so far, only once venturing into the second period.
He is ranked No. 1 in the state in AA by Off the Mat, as well as No. 2 in the nation by Intermat.
And four more wins will make him a two-time state champion. Right now, that is his only goal.