“Highland’s Hercules” will now get the opportunity to meet his Greek counterpart.
Don Tomko, one of the most physically imposing athletes in Medina County history, died Friday from cancer at his brother’s home in Carson City, Nev.
He was 60.
The 2006 Medina County Sports Hall of Fame inductee became the area’s first two-time state wrestling champion when he secured 185-pound crowns in 1970 and ’71. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker also was the third player in county history to be named first-team All-Ohio in football.
“People would think he was loud, boisterous and mean, but he really wasn’t. He was just a real nice guy,” former Highland assistant wrestling coach Bob Burton said. “He never bragged about beating everybody, but the thing is he was not intimidated by anybody.
“He was a brute. He’d overpower everybody. He was a true state champion.”
While Tomko ultimately earned a football scholarship to Kent State, where he played alongside Jack Lambert before leaving the team after his freshman season, he is best remembered as one of the most elite wrestlers the county has produced.
In three seasons, Tomko compiled a 78-3-1 career record, with more than 70 percent of the victories via pin. Only Wadsworth’s Nick Tavanello (179-10) has approached Tomko’s .951 winning percentage in the 42 years since he last stepped onto a mat.
Tomko won his first state crown with a thrilling 3-2 decision over Toledo St. Francis’ Tim Irvine, who later starred at Toledo, before taking Ohio by storm in 1971.
Known as “Teddy Bear” to his classmates for an extremely quiet, passionate and respectful personality, he was the talk of the state tournament. Tomko pinned his way to the state title match, where he forged a 12-1 decision over Circleville’s Mark Davey that many swear should have been his 10th consecutive fall of the postseason.
“He was just so much better than everyone else with the natural ability he possessed,” former Highland coach Daryl Bryson said. “His natural ability combined with his strength and agility was amazing.
“Other coaches said he was the most kinetically intelligent athlete they had ever seen.”
So, too, did Ohio wrestling aficionado Brian Brakeman. In 2000, he selected Tomko as one of the top 15 Ohio wrestlers of the 20th century regardless of weight class.
“Possibly the most physically dominating wrestler in high school history, Tomko won two titles with all the subtlety of a jackhammer,” Brakeman wrote. “A fantastic pinner, he used brute force to lever his opponents to their backs. Not as well known as some other champions, he, nonetheless, would have dominated in any era.”
On the football field, Tomko was named to the 1970 Class AA All-Ohio first team despite missing multiple games with a knee injury. The previous season he terrorized offensive linemen as a middle guard — he was known to hurdle opposing centers and tackle quarterbacks before they could hand off — in helping Highland compile a 9-0 record.
With Tomko starting at tight end, fullback, middle guard and linebacker, the Hornets went 23-3-2 and won two Inland Conference championships.
After dropping out of Kent State and spurning tryout offers from NFL teams, Tomko worked as a general foreman for the labor unions in Cleveland before moving to Nevada.
Tomko was born on March 22, 1953 and is survived by sons Daniel, of Brunswick, and David, of Cleveland, brothers Allen, of Carson City, Nev., and George, of Medina, and sister Cristine, of Dayton, Nev. He was preceded in death by his parents, George and Joan.
By Don Tomko’s request, no services will be held and his ashes will be spread on a site overlooking Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Print this story
Report an innappropriate comment
In order to comment, you must agree to our user agreement and discussion guidelines.
Read our user agreement and discussion guidelines ..
Need help? Email Us.