Before I spend what will be tomorrow writing about the kids who get out, I have a couple of thoughts about those who didn’t.
Maybe what happened to my boy this week has led me to write this first. By now many if not most of you (at least those who follow the Facebook page) know the story; while this story is not about him, so I won’t re-share the deets here, what happened to him has made me extra-emotional.
And he’s an athlete. Thrower. His last actual competition was a region tournament like this weekend. He didn’t have it when we went to regions in Pensacola last year. Some days, you just don’t have it. He was so angry, he didn’t even want to stay and he ALWAYS stays to mentor other kids. I liken it to kids who are so overcome by emotion that they run off the mat after a loss.
I started this piece three years ago while covering the 1A-Region 1 finals at Clay. While we are a burgeoning if not behemoth media empire now, I wanted to just stop at Wakulla Saturday (I’d been cocooned in my little space, making notes to start getting ready for the story I’ll write tomorrow). I wanted to just watch.
The intensity of the emotion, no matter the venue, never changes.
No less a philosopher than the legendary Terry Brands (of course I’m going to name-check an Iowa wrestler) said about this sport, “You get what you earn.”
That’s true, and it’s not true.
Many of these kids should be at states. One or two of them have been.
And many wrestlers have their seasons end in the consi semis. Most, thankfully, have a chance to come back and gain redemption in subsequent years. But this is the cruelest of fates for these few (and yet, always, too many), the seniors who have their high school careers end in the blood round.
It’s carnage out there. I hate it. And I can’t stop watching it.
As I’ve written before in prior versions of this story:
<<I’m never going to forget those emotions, the highs and the lows. They’re absolutely beautiful, and they’re absolutely shattering. THAT is why I cover this sport.
That’s why I feel sorrow for these kids that follow in this list, the seniors whose careers ended in the blood round on Saturday, because precious few teenagers are willing to step up and do what it takes just to even say that they are wrestlers, let alone be good enough to have a chance to find out the answers on the state stage. Precious damn few.
I know how hard they’ve worked, and, at the same time, I will never, ever truly know.>>
First a note about our new (to our coverage area, not their teams) guys that saw their careers end in the blood round. Cesar Marquez. Chase McDonough. Jeremiah Epps. Jonathan Waugh. Aaron Morris. I hoped you’d make it to The Show, even though I only started covering you this year. Many of you, I have written about even before I covered you. You mattered to your teams and you matter to me. You were great teammates to your younger guys, whom I will see longer — and see your role modeling in them.
Josh Murrell. What a beast you were at 285. Every tournament I was at, people noticed you. Talked about you. Worried abbout you. I know if your coaches had had you a little longer, you’d be wrestling #NextLevel. Might still be.
Dexter Anderson. Nobody (certainly not this so-called “expert”) expected you to get to this round. You beat two kids I thought you wouldn’t. Hold your head up with pride. You led your team this weekend.
Sean Ripley. I know you didn’t get a full season this year, and that might have helped you. Nevertheless, it took a herculean effort from a team leader to knock you out of the tournament today.
Adam Barnes. Take heart. While everyone in this story met the same fate as you, you got a chance to hoist a team region championship today, and your points toward that championship were irreplaceable. I’m sure Crowder told you that.
Tucker Reape. I thought the hiatus was three years; I learned later it was FIVE. You won a district title, you soldiered on and you helped continue the legacy of Clay district titles. Even before you took the mat this year, I knew how proud your family’s been of you.
Ontarriyus Reid. Last year, you made the miracle run and won a region title. This year? It just wasn’t meant to be. Goliath was just a little too good this year. It won’t be the last time he is, but next time — in life — you’ll be ready.
Salvador Rodriguez. New to the varsity lineup this year if not new to wrestling. You were your team’s best wrestler, every time out. I never saw you give less than 100%, every time you were on the mat, win or lose. Remember that.
Dylan Lampkin. You got better and better, it seemed like, every time I saw a result of yours come over to me. You’ve helped make Hakeem and Grayson better, and you’ve made your program better.
Trevion Demus. What an injury-free career might have had for you. We saw how much talent you’ve had right from the jump as a freshman. But you know what? You did more for the sport with your coaching and support of Brielle. Keep doing it.
Daniel McDonal. Could you have carried your team’s program in any prouder a fashion? Hardly anybody knows much about your team. But they know about you because of your quiet pursuit of excellence. You matter more than you can realize.
Ashley Saddler. I could say the same about you. You kept battling and winning, week after week, when the team results weren’t good and never got better. Easy to wrestle for a strong team. You know how hard the other thing is.
Cole Galbreath. Where did you come from? I don’t know if you wrestlers that don’t wrestle in Panama City have any idea just how hard Michael nearly obliterated Bay County programs. Cole just might have saved Bozeman. Believe that.
Joe Grelli. A lot of wrestlers talk about maturity and grace under fire. I remember when the losses were the rule and not the exception. You were graceful. Now that it’s the other way around, nothing changed in your demeanor. Clay youngsters will continue to learn a lot from you.
Wyatt Kirkpatrick. If outsiders were surprised, as I was somewhat surprised, by the surge that Rocky Bayou put on this year, that surge starts first and foremost with you. You have been the best RBCS wrestler for years and I know your teammates look to your example.
Jean Maldonaldo. I remember wondering who you were when Coach Marez started adding you to the lineup. But you kept winning and then you kept staying in the lineup. You’ve been an anchor in the Vikings’ middles ever since you arrived.
George Joanos. Kid, you just scrap like none other. Wrestling’s not as easy for you as it is for a couple of your teammates, but your opponents always knew they got a battle on their hands with you across the line.
Ethan Goodman. I thought back to last year’s blood round, with it was you moving on and your arch-rival, a 2019 graduate, staying home. If he knows what happened Saturday, I know he would send good thoughts your way. You’ve had a very solid career.
Joseph Rizzo. One of the last FPC wrestlers from the previous regime. Those two freshmen that are next to you in the lineup? They’re better, because of you. They’re better wrestlers, and they’re going to be better teammates down the road, because of you.
Kevonte Times. Two years in a row in the final six. Hard cheese, really hard. But you still have a vital role to play. There are teammates who have podiums to make this week, and you can help them get there. You did a lot for Chiles.
Austin Wheeler. Man, tough early going to your career. Tough early going. Anybody who’s had a rough go with this sport, they can look to you as proof that hard work is its own reward, because you put in a lot of it to improve so much over the last four years. Like your teammate, your team’s success isn’t possible without yours.
Gabe Guzman. You’ve been to The Show before. It’s really hard to jump from 113 to 145, though. It was necessary, but you made it work. You did everything your coaches could have asked of you, and more, over the last four years, and it hasn’t been all that easy for your team. You overcame a lot to get to this point. Remember that.
Dalton Posick. I started seeing results for you SIX YEARS AGO. First district tournament you were in, you made it out, and I was there. You should know, and your parents should know, that you are REALLY well-thought of in the community among your rival teams. That is a credit to you. It matters more than what today will.
Isaiah Clifford. You walked me in to your team’s fundraiser last April. Your coach is gutted you didn’t get out. I’M gutted you didn’t get out. It was a tough round for you guys. I’ll remember seeing you with your parents, just the three of you, nobody else in the gym, or I’m sure it at least felt that way. You’re going to be a fine young man. Clay built you, but you built Clay, too.
This is the one I didn’t want to have to add. I see so much of my son in you. You both MADE yourself into athletes; it wasn’t graced upon you like some of your former teammates or many of your rivals. I’ve watched every single painstaking step you’ve taken, and dammit, you deserve to be in The Show, I don’t care what Brands said (just don’t tell him; I lose my Iowa membership card). You put in the time, you put in the extra time, and sometimes, life has another plan. You have laid the groundwork to be successful at anything, and when you’ve done it, later on in life, just remember I knew you first as a skinny little runt that would. not. quit. Ever.