On Thursday, 896 wrestlers stepped on the mat at CenturyLink Center Omaha. By Saturday afternoon, 336 would have medals to take home with them. Only 56 would be champions.
Math would tell you that 840 of those kids weren’t champion athletes. But, sometimes the math doesn’t quite work. Not in Omaha. Not at state wrestling.
All of these kids, likely, will turn out to be champions at the most important thing — life.
There are too many stories to tell in a limited space.
In all, 12 Striv school athletes were crowned champions – and we should list them here – and if you followed our extensive coverage on Twitter or viewed our Facebook album, you likely saw most of our champs, either via action photos, player cards or video. Maybe, you heard from them with our new little toy, Anchor.fm.
It was a blast. So onto those champions:
A113 – Jack Huffman, Millard West
B195 – Arturo Chavez, Schuyler
C106 – Tyler Cunningham, St. Paul
C113 – Max Hughes, Syracuse
C120 – Trent Daro, David City
C126 – Wyatt Phillips, David City
C132 – Melvin Hernandez, David City
C138 – Jeremiah Dickinson, Central City
C160 – Zach Borer, North Bend Central
C170 – David Gross, St. Paul
C285 – Aron Reynaga, Madison
D106 – Ignacio Rivera, Sutton
D160 – Zemua Baptista, Friend
There are so many stories inside those twelve. How the David City Three led them to another state title; the work and dedication of Baptista, maybe the best small school wrestler in history; how Rivera earned his way to the title, having never won a medal at state.
Baptista will head to Iowa State – wrestling juggernaut – in the fall. Three gold medals in hand, his story may just be getting started. Here is why.
“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of fun,” he told us after the finals. “We are on our way, we are getting there but we aren’t done yet. And, I’ll take it with me to Iowa State.”
But what will never be lost on Baptista – whether he wins an NCAA title or makes the Olympics – is the experience that he had in high school.
“I can’t take any credit at all,” he added. “My teammates and coaches have been with me, too. They have put in a lot of work and just as many hours as I have.”
“It means so much,” he said. “It felt like the whole town was behind me.”
We know. Any tweet that mentioned @09chavez_ was a RT and FAV hit over the weekend. If you don’t believe us about that “whole town” thing there is a fire truck escort video to prove it.
Here is how Chavez arrived to school on Monday morning.
— Dani⚰ (@allobersykes) February 22, 2016
Chavez was the hit of our – hopefully – new and improved way to bring our friends and followers inside the event. Over 200,000 folks viewed our social media over the weekend.
Maybe, you’ll find Tyler Cunningham from St. Paul. Who had his dad – head coach Sean – by his side for a 45-1 championship sophomore season.
“He kept me focused,” the younger Cunningham said of dinner table conversation. “He was always telling me to think about what that last goal was.”
Those are the stories, but just a few. Max Hughes, at C113 topped unbeaten Evan Waddington to remain in his quest for four gold medals. North Bend’s Borer may have just started his.
But, all the stories aren’t about champions. They are about brothers. About how the NSAA has turned this into one of the most inspiring, unique events in this state. And, some were about being champions just to get to Omaha.
Like Northwest wrestler Grayson Fries, who went 0-2 in Omaha but finished 36-18 during his freshman season. But Fries, in Class B at 106 pounds, is a grinder.
Unlike the other 895 wrestlers who took the mat on Thursday, Fries is deaf. When he steps on the mat, he can’t hear his coach, or his family supporting him in the stands. His story was chronicled well by Nick Rubek and Marc Zavala. He doesn’t seem to mind.
“People might think of you as a different person but really you’re not. You are just like any other normal person, living a fun life and enjoying it. That’s what I do every day,” Fries told Zavala.
The other part for Grayson and all you other 839 champions who didn’t bring home a gold medal? That you have already won in life because of the lessons you learned in the circle.