By Dan Hardenbrook

A pair of wrestlers for the Newberry program made history this past weekend, advancing through the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Regionals.

Hayden O’Neil originally opened eyes as a participant in Newberry’s Youth Wrestling Program, which is also open to the surrounding areas. But once he hit high school, it was unknown if he would get the opportunity to compete. O’Neil, who attends school in Engadine, did not have a team to join because the school didn’t have a high school program.

That’s when Coach Bob Bowler went to work, forming a co-op agreement between the two schools. Soon, wrestlers from Engadine flocked to Newberry, and four years later, O’Neil is the first ever four-time state qualifier in Newberry Wrestling history. O’Neil finished third at last weekend’s MHSAA Division 4 Regional in Charlevoix. Wrestling in the 144lb weight class, O’Neil dropped his first-round match, but battled back winning two in a row to advance to the State Finals.

While O’Neil is making his historic fourth career finals appearance, Newberry’s Delaney Bliss will be going for the first time as part of a trailblazing field competing in the first ever MHSAA Girls Individual Tournament. The MHSAA introduced the new division this season, giving girls an equal opportunity to compete against each other and earn their own individual state championship.

Prior to the historic move, female wrestlers had to compete in the same individual tournaments as the boys, much like they do now in many regular season meets. But with the sports growing among young girls, the ladies now get their own spotlight. Bliss broke through, advancing through the MHSAA Girls Regional round, with a fourth-round finish Sunday in Cadillac. She became the first female wrestler from Newberry to qualify for a state tournament.

The MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals are March 1 and 2 at Ford Field in Detroit.