Editor’s note: This story is the third in a series of articles that will run each Wednesday about memorable sporting events that happened at the Frankfort Convention Center.
From 1996 to 2011, the wrestling state tournament were held at the Frankfort Convention Center, previously known as the Civic Center.
“That’s a memorable place for high school wrestling in Kentucky,” former Franklin County wrestling coach Gene Wolf said. “Bringing the state tournament to Frankfort was great. I came to Franklin County in 1992 and when it moved to Frankfort that was a big step for Kentucky wrestling. It was a great venue during that time.”
And in those 16 years, only one local wrestler came away as a state champion.
Franklin County’s Chad Haydon claimed the title in the 103-pound weight class in 1998 to provide FCHS with its first and still only state wrestling champion.
“It’s an individual accomplishment but I got to give all the credit in the world to my teammates,” Haydon said. “Day in and day out we all busted our butts out there. It’s as much as an accomplishment for the whole team when someone wins. I’m grateful that I had such a good team, good teammates and good coach.”
Wolf, who was Haydon’s head coach, recalled Haydon’s style of wrestling.
“He was a strong, physical kid with a lot of heart,” Wolf said of Haydon. “We didn’t rely solely on technique with him. He was physical, and he was going to wear the other guy down and you knew Chad had an opportunity at the end.
“He was one of those kids that could fall behind in a match, but if he had time on the clock, he kept going. He didn’t hang his head after getting taken down or from being behind. He kept up the pressure and stayed at them. He was a fun wrestler to watch. A lot of kids will stall a match, not with Chad. He kept moving forward.”
Haydon, a junior at the time, was making his first state tournament appearance after finishing a win short of qualifying for state his sophomore year.
“That left more of a fire in me for the next year that I came up just short of making it,” Haydon said.
Haydon made the most of his first time, going 4-0 in the two-day event to win the event. Going into it, Haydon and Wolf both knew that he had a shot at finishing first.
“Early on in the tournament I found somebody’s bracket they filled out, like you would an NCAA bracket, and they had me placing fifth,” Haydon sad. “At the time, I would have been OK with fifth, going into it I really wanted to place (top six). I knew I had a reasonable shot finishing higher than just placing. I had high hopes that I would win, but I didn’t necessarily think I was going to do it.”
“I knew Chad had a fighter’s shot because that’s what he was,” Wolf said. “He was a strong kid at his weight class. It’s about who can put together that weekend, who can stay focus and recover from the mistakes. They’re going to make mistakes and Chad made mistakes in those matches. But if he made a mistake, he didn’t hang his head.”
To begin the 16-man tournament on a Friday, Haydon defeated Brandon Cole of Union County 10-2.
“Before the tournament, Kyle Chism, who was on the wrestling team and had graduated, was in school in Colorado and he told me the night before he wasn’t able to make it to the tournament,” Haydon said. “I remember my first match against the Union County kid, and in the third period I looked up on the sideline and there he was. He rode a bus all the way back home to watch me. That kind of picked me up and gave me a little juice there in the end.”
Haydon then defeated Scott Wallitsch of St. Xavier 8-7 in the quarterfinals in what turned out to be his tightest match of the tournament.
“We were tied (6-6) with 30 seconds left; I was on top on the guy and I remember looking up at Coach Wolf and he was telling me to let him up and give him the one point for an escape,” Haydon said. “I had my doubts because takedowns weren’t my strongest suit. But I did it and ended up getting a takedown with around 15 seconds left which put me back up by one.”
“When you tell them this is what we got to do, there are some kids then will say ‘that wasn’t my idea,’ but Chad was one that would say ‘OK that’s what we need to try to do’ and go try to get it done. And he did,” Wolf said. “Chad was stronger and he was strong at the end.”
That quarterfinal win guaranteed him a top-six finish, but there wasn’t any time to celebrate for Haydon.
“After that match, I knew I had one more weigh in I had to make and it was strictly business,” Haydon said. “I remember after that match I immediately put on my sweats, got up to the top of the Civic Center and I ran laps, trying to get my weight back down to make weight Saturday morning. There wasn’t much time to celebrate, we had to roll back into business.”
The next day, Haydon pinned Jason Daviaux of Scott with seven seconds left in the first period to advance to the state finals to face Campbell County’s Mike Grimme.
Being in the lowest weight class, Haydon’s state final match was the first to be contested.
“It was a fun evening,” Wolf said. “The atmosphere was amped up, it was kind of a rock-concert atmosphere. When the first guys come out, that’s when the crowd is really jacked up because they spent 30 minutes playing the crowd up. It was fun, for us at Franklin County to have our guy out there as the first one in the finals.”
Haydon had no trouble in the finals, leading 5-0 after the first period on his way to a 7-3 victory.
“Once I got it to that point I had a pretty good idea I was going to win that match,” Haydon said. “I remember hearing the whole crowd, I actually could hear them chanting my name. I’m pretty sure that started from the Franklin County bunch. The funny thing about it is I think even Woodford County was in there cheering for me.”
Also sticking out to Haydon about the event was that it occurred in his hometown and all those that were in attendance to see him achieve the accomplishment.
“I had been on the wrestling team a few years and gone to it myself to watch it; I always dreamed to be able to be out there in the finals,” Haydon said. “The fact that it was in Frankfort was nice. I had a lot of family and friends and people that came to watch it. I’ve got a lot of family members that’s passed on since then that were able to come and watch me.
“My wife, Anna, I knew her in high school but we didn’t date then, she was actually there,” Haydon said. “After we started dating she told me she was there and I thought that was pretty neat that she got to witness it.”
• Haydon was the third and currently last local wrestler to win the state title. Frankfort High’s Tim Harrod (1972) and Jon Wiard (1989) both won when the event was held in Louisville.
• FHS’ Dan Howley also competed in the state finals in 1998. Howley lost a 3-2 decision to Woodford’s Chris Dunn in the 135-pound final.
• Along with Haydon and Howley, there have been two other local wrestlers to wrestle in a state championship match while it was at the Convention Center. They are FCHS’ Josh Lopez (125) and Jeremy Gardner (171), both in 2010.