In the world of martial arts, receiving a black belt requires hundreds of hours of training, along with years of dedication and sacrifices.
In Ohio State wrestling this season, that same level of dedication and accomplishment will be represented by a black shirt that shows the wearer is a great wrestler and leader.
Wrestlers can be nominated for the award by any team member. In order to be awarded a black shirt, nominees must receive unanimous approval from the coaching staff and all current black shirt holders, Ross said.
“As much tradition we have of winning, there’s not a tradition of things that embrace the process of getting to success,” strength coach Riley Ross, originator of the black shirt tradition, said. “It’s the concept of ‘arete,’ which is a Greek word that they grasped as ‘virtue.’ It was a holistic level of excellence that they really believed was possible within the human being.”
Ross said his background working with professional fighters and jiu-jitsu practitioners showed him how important the black belt is to that culture and played a large part in choosing the color black for the team’s new tradition.
“The significance of a black belt within that culture is that all the other colors, if you blended them together, would essentially turn black, and black covers all the sweat and all the blood,” Ross said. “Black embodies that toughness that should be ingrained in them by the time they get that black shirt.”
The black shirt is exactly like the other outer shirts the wrestlers wear, sweat absorbent and lightweight, but they are a black version of the standard gray, team-issued T-shirts, Ross said.
“In the future, we will have ones that commemorate the year the wrestler obtained their black shirts along with a new logo,” Ross said. “Graphic design is working on that currently.”
Head coach Tom Ryan said he was immediately on board with the idea when it was presented to him and the coaching staff by Ross this past offseason in a staff meeting and thinks it will be good for program culture. Ryan said it will take the “elite of the elite” to receive a black shirt, and wrestlers must meet certain criteria to have the chance to don the shirt.
“You cannot get a black shirt just because you’re a straight-A student, do 10 hours of community service, are a great example to your community, and you pick people up when they’re down,” Ryan said. “The only way to get a black shirt is to be a savage.”
Ryan said being a savage means giving an outward display of the deep love for what you do.
The black shirt will help the team become more conscious of making decisions that will help them reach the next level, as well as setting a high standard for the wrestlers, Ryan said.
“The topic was, ‘How could we become a tougher team?’ If a human being is willing to suffer, they can accomplish anything, but we never want to be the team that loses; we want to be the team that just ran out of time,” Ryan said “The shirts are a visual cue that there’s a standard that’s extremely high.”
Senior captains Kollin Moore and Luke Pletcher will be the inaugural black shirt-wearers for the Buckeyes. Moore, a two-time Big Ten Champion, and Pletcher, a two-time All-American and two-time Big Ten finalist, were both recognized by Ryan for checking all the boxes of a black shirt wearer.
“I’ve seen Kollin, and I’ve seen Luke pour their heart and souls into their wrestling matches and also in the way they train, while also having those other ingredients,” Ryan said. “To me, the black shirt represents a lot more than a status, and I think that Kollin and Luke with that black shirt can say that they love this sport and have lived this lifestyle for a long time.”