FAIRFIELD — Legendary former Fairfield High School wrestling coach Ron Masanek wanted a place for Butler County schools to be able to get together and compete when he established the Fairfield Invitational almost five decades ago.
Now the tournament has developed into a popular draw for some of the top teams around the tri-state and beyond.
The 47th annual Ron Masanek Fairfield Invitational takes place Friday and Saturday at the Fairfield Arena and will feature 16 schools, including Greater Miami Conference foes Lakota East, Lakota West, Princeton and Sycamore, as well as local schools Ross and Edgewood. Wrestling begins at 5 p.m. Friday and, thanks to Saturday’s snow forecast, will resume at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
GIRLS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
“We’ve got teams from Toledo, Columbus-area, a host of Kentucky teams — it’s a long way from where this tournament started as a Butler County invitational,” Fairfield coach Jason Laflin said.
“It’s branched out into a super competitive field, and it’s one of the oldest tournaments in Ohio.”
Harrison returns to defend its 2018 title, but Fairfield won the tournament three straight years before that and looks to be in the mix for the championship again this time.
Laflin believes he has some wrestlers who will contend to win their individual weight classes and everyone on the team is capable of winning matches. A few individual champions and placers won’t be enough to win the title, though.
“We will be one of the top five competitive schools,” Laflin said. “If things go our way, we could win. There are probably four or five teams with legit, really good kids start to finish. Anyone coming from out of town is going to be really good. I think we have a good enough team to win, but a lot of things have to happen for that to be possible. There are 14 weight classes, and we need to score in each one to have a chance.”
Fairfield is led by a trio of wrestlers who went to state last year and remain undefeated this season, a unique accomplishment this deep into the schedule. Moustapha Bal is 20-0 at 120 pounds, two-time Fairfield Invitational champion Jabari Thomas is 19-0 at 126 pounds and Amar Thomas is 19-0 at 152 pounds. Bal and Jabari Thomas placed sixth and seventh, respectively, at the Division I state tournament last year, and Amar Thomas qualified but did not place.
The Indians also bring the confidence of a recent win at the 54th Kenston Holiday Tournament in Cleveland, which featured 40 teams.
“We’ve done well at this point, but the early part of the season is not the goal,” Laflin said. “We’ve got to get ready for the postseason and everything moving forward is getting ready for March. That will be upon us before we know it.”
Laflin said Fairfield still has some big challenges ahead on the schedule when the Indians will see opponents like Mason and La Salle, but the Fairfield Invitational could be the toughest competition so far for some of his wrestlers.
Some weight classes will be more competitive than others this weekend.
“Our three individuals who are undefeated should put us right where we want to be, but we just need all our guys to show up and compete the way they are able to,” Laflin said.
Laflin especially enjoys this tournament as one he competed in before graduating from Fairfield in 1989, and he knows his wrestlers look forward to it each year as well. He’s been on the coaching staff with the Indians since 1995, and this is his fifth season as head coach after replacing Manasek in 2014.
“It’s always awesome to compete at home,” Laflin said. “The kids love it. They take a lot of pride wrestling in their home gym, and it’s a unique event with so much history. A lot of the teams that come back, they look forward to competing in it. The good kids get pushed and average kids compete. It’s a neat event every year.”