Conquering wrestling hero comes home to Galion
National champion Dustin Fox heads youth clinic
By JON SPENCER
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GALION -- Nick Flowers, smallest kid in the wrestling room, thought the biggest kid in the wrestling room was a giant.
He was right.
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</TD><TD width=10></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>"Big kid" and "giant" are two terms that fit reigning NCAA heavyweight champion Dustin Fox to a tee, much better than the camouflage "tee" hugging his barrel chest like Saran wrap as he conducted a clinic for 30 kids Sunday at Heise Park.
"It's pretty cool," Flowers, a Galion sixth grader, said. "You don't see that many champions like him around here."
It was Fox's first trip home from Northwestern University since beating Ohio State's J.D. Bergman 4-2 in overtime for his NCAA title. He signed some 200 autographs for kids during the weekend, spoke at Sunday's dedication of the new Galion schools and accepted a key to the city from officials who proclaimed Saturday "Dustin Fox Day."
"One of my buddies said he's going to take off work every May 3rd," Fox joked. "I guess it's going to be like a red-letter day from now on."
While everybody around him toasted his achievement, Fox was more impressed with the new high school.
"This community feels vibrant and alive," he said. "It's something Galion can be proud of."
Judging by the turnout for Saturday night's celebratory toast at The Varsity Grille, Fox's hometown feels the same way about him.
"Everybody thinks it's the ultimate to go all the way (to an NCAA title), but to see it actually happen, you want to pinch yourself," said former Galion head coach and current assistant Jim Wegesin, who attended all four NCAA nationals Fox competed in.
"I talked to his mom (Kym) about a week and a half after the tournament and you could tell she was still only about halfway down from Cloud Nine."
Even dressed in camouflage, it's hard for the easy-going, down-to-earth Fox to blend in these days.
"I'm signing autographs ... how ridiculous is that?" Galion's only two-time state champ said. "I was at my girlfriend's aunt's in Grand Rapids (Mich.) at a water polo match and two people came up and asked for my autograph. I'm like ... 'What?'
"There have been a lot of mixed feelings. College wrestling was real hard and intense. I'd ask myself, 'Why do I have to work out three times a day? Waa, waa.' Then I win a national championship ... and it's totally worth it."
As he signed mini-posters for the kids Sunday, one of them came up to Fox and complimented him on his title performance. Fox prevailed despite breaking his nose and getting head-butted while temporarily blinded by his broken headgear. Blood pooled at the bridge of his nose as he stood at the top of the awards podium.
"That was a great match," the young wrestler said in a tone reserved for a WWE or UFC champion. "I've never seen anyone bleed that much."
"Yeah, me neither," Fox winced.
His homecoming was an ear-opening experience for 10-year-old Drake Barnett, son of former Galion state placer Matt Barnett, now a coach at the junior high level.
"It was neat to hear how (Fox) wasn't too good at first but that he trained hard to get to his goal and got better," Drake said.
Wegesin witnessed every step of Fox's progression, from a freshman with a sub-.500 record (9-10) to a national champion at both the high school and college levels.
"He'd come to anything; if there's such a thing as a wrestling workaholic, he was it," Wegesin said. "Between his junior and senior years, he was only home three days all summer. The rest of the time he was somewhere working on his wrestling skills."
If anything, the affection Fox has for the men who helped mold him -- Wegesin, Kyle Baughan (Fox's high school head coach) and current Galion head coach Matt Tyrrell -- has only gotten stronger.
At one point Sunday, Fox playfully tried to demonstrate a single-leg takedown on Wegesin, who had knee replacement surgery last year. Wegesin smiled and gave Fox the "back off" signal with his hands.
Tyrrell, a former All-American at Findlay, had no such reservations about rolling around on the mat with Fox during a sparring session Saturday that also included Galion's 2007 state champ Matt Clum.
"I better look back at that as a fond memory," Tyrrell said, "because it will probably never happen again. The whole weekend was pretty special."
Before jumping in his car and heading back to Northwestern, Fox commended the young wrestlers in the practice room for their dedication to the sport. The faces in the crowd including budding Galion star Rich Ulmer, Lexington standouts Nick Hiles and Brandon Gambucci and Shelby's two-time state qualifier John Worthington.
Fox told his audience he wouldn't have amounted to anything without great coaches every step of the way. But it was self-motivation that ultimately drove him to the top.
"It was my will to compete that carried me," he said. "If I have one character flaw, it's that if I'm not interested in something, I'm not going to do it. If I'm real passionate about something, I'm real good at it.
"With wrestling, I hated losing. When I lost in the Big Ten tournament my junior year, 10-8 in overtime, I cried like a baby for 45 minutes. Even playing video games with my brothers are cut-throat. That's my personality.
"It's easy to be motivated when (coaches) like Jim Wegesin and Kyle Baughn get behind you and commit their lives to you."
THE FOX FILE
2008 NCAA heavyweight champion.
Big Ten champion.
Four-time NCAA nationals qualifier.
109-29 college record.
Two-time high school state champion.
Three-time Northern Ohio League champion.
Junior national freestyle champion.
Junior national Greco champion.
136-16 high school record.