Saturday at regions. The highest highs and the lowest lows.
I really wanted to soak it up this year, so I went up on the upper level at Clay on Saturday, notepad in hand for final results. However, I was focused more on what I saw in the people and less on the scoreboard.
A year ago at Palm Coast, the consi rounds — in particular the so-called “blood round” didn’t have the same impact, because I was really focused on just the District 1 kids in it. Two years ago, I was at Clay, but it was Region 2 and I was mostly focused on just the Blue Devils. Three years ago? I was at Bishop Snyder, when this year’s seniors were freshmen and I still barely knew who everyone, anyone, was.
This year, I was covering every single team. And I was watching the emotion of it all.
The best part? Standing next to an Episcopal adult I later learned was Christian Rickey’s aunt. His parents, unable to eat all morning, had gone down to the floor. She stayed and videoed. I looked over after his victory, which punched his ticket to Kissimmee for the first time in his senior season after a junior year that ended in the “blood round.” She was crying. I tried not to start. She watched the video of the match she’d just taped. Continued crying. I tried harder not to start. Christian’s parents came up. I’ve been watching him since he was a skinny little runt at Bolles three years ago.
After they left to celebrate and get ready for the third-place match, my efforts to not start failed briefly.
I can’t help it. I care about these kids.
That’s why I felt absolutely stabbed to the heart seeing Suwannee senior Billy Jenkins’ reaction after losing by fall in the blood round, to another senior in Joseph Helm of Fernandina. I’ve watched both of those kids since they were freshmen. I saw Jenkins qualify for state 3 years and 3 head coaches ago as a freshman. I watched him medal at states last year. I swear one of his coaches or fans said to him, not 10 feet from me at Bishop Snyder back in 2014, how easy getting out to state could be. I agreed then. And remembered, AGAIN, on Saturday how easy it isn’t.
That’s why I felt crushed to look on at Wakulla senior Max Owen following the War Eagles’ team photo, designed to celebrate their second-place team finish. Owen is quality enough to have earned one of the Northwest Pacesetter awards this season. His high school career ended Saturday, and my heart bled with him as a teammate (perhaps younger brother Matthew?) walked out of the Clay gym with him, his face still completely red hours later, to go home to Crawfordville. Ironically, it was another Pacesetter winner that ended his tournament.
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.
I celebrate the kids who gain success by writing about them, and I have probably written something about each of these kids. Some of them, I’ve written several somethings.
Mike Cerio. Damien Stayer. Shane Ferry. Connor Metcalf. Delmontae Davis. Caleb Calhoun. Jemel Fanfan. Danterius Ghant. Devon Neely. Sullivan Gerlits. Dylan Hanna. Jordan Hines. Seth Martin. Bobby Williams. Adam Spikes. Owen Beining. Eddie Bryant. Vincent Ebanks.
Max Owen. Cody Eastwood (one of the original Heaton’s Heroes). Trent Dalldorf, who saw Fletcher through its heights, its lows and its return to the heights, as a 4-year starter. Chandler Bell.
I look forward to seeing the kind of men you will turn out to be because of your time as a wrestler. But today, I am still devastated for you, and with you.