Dayton’s first state wrestling champ died young, but his memory lives on.
By Leo DeLuca
Dan Howell became Dayton’s first Ohio state high school wrestling champion in 1973. He died tragically soon after, but his legend refuses to fade.
Wrestling for Oakwood High School, Howell’s 4–0 shutout victory in the 132-pound state finals was the grand finale of a flawless senior season. At 37–0, he remains the only wrestler in Oakwood history to go undefeated. For a brief moment in time Dan Howell was invincible.
“You couldn’t touch him,” says Howell’s teammate Rich Gowdy, a 1972 112-pound state runner-up. “To this day he’s the best wrestler I’ve ever seen on his feet.”
During those days, Dayton was not known as a powerhouse of high school wrestling. Cleveland teams historically captured the spotlight, but on March 10, 1973, Dayton made its mark. After two tight matches in the quarter and semifinals, Howell dominated Dave Kosky of Bellaire St. John in the championship finals. He took Kosky down, rode him out, and entered the annals of Ohio wrestling history with a 4–0 victory. (Points were awarded for riding time in 1973).
“When it was over he acted like it was just another match,” says Chip Seidl, who coached wrestling at Oakwood from 1969–1998.
Howell never wrestled again. He attended Ohio University then transferred to Wright State University before working at the Colony Club in Kettering. On Saturday, Oct. 9, 1977, he was painting a house near the University of Dayton when he ran across Seidl.
“We talked about how he should go back to school, how we should try to get together more often.”
But Seidl and Howell never got together again. Neither did those closest to Howell.
“Dan Howell, Dayton’s first state high school wrestling champion, was killed in an automobile crash Sunday night on Wilmington Pike.” The chilling words ran in the Oct. 11, 1977, edition of the Dayton Daily News under the headline: “Former prep star dies in auto crash.”
“Dan was the passenger in a Corvette. His buddy turned left, some car hit him and broke his neck,” says Seidl.
Howell died instantaneously, but his memory lives on. Yes, he was Dayton’s first state wrestling champ, but he was also Oakwood’s last.
Today, a trio of Oakwood Junior High wrestlers—Carson Baumgardner, Aaron Cunningham, and Jude Schauer—are rising stars. They know well the near mythological tale of Dan Howell—the undefeated legend who burned bright and died young. When asked if they’ll be Oakwood’s next state champ their answer is a resounding “yes!” Time will tell, but for 45 years, no one has caught up to Howell.
At Oakwood High School, in a display case near the center of the long historic senior hall, hangs a photo of the undefeated 132-pounder in his blue and gold singlet. Tall and lanky with a mop of curly hair, his hands are raised, ready to wrestle. Here he stands frozen at age 18. In this space, and in the minds of wrestlers past and present, Dan Howell has in some small way remained invincible.