The Regional Wrestling tournament is one of the most exciting and heartbreaking events for me each year. The top 4 individuals in each weight class advance to the state tournament the next week. For the rest of the wrestlers, their season is over. For some, it's the end of their careers.
This year, we had 3 wrestlers advance to the State Tournament. I'm very excited for them, especially since they all have legitimate shots at placing in Greensboro. But I am deeply saddened for my non-qualifiers. I had 4 seniors fall short. Two of them were eliminated in the last round, the consolation semifinals. Win in that round and you're in the top 4.
You know, I like to win. I like to win a lot. But this job is special because of the relationships I build with these guys. Putting my arm around these guys to console them is the hardest thing I do in coaching.
Sure, it's just a match but you haven't met Ley Kicklighter. Ley was the worse athlete we had four years ago. Soft, uncoordinated, and not strong. But he connected with wrestling and each year got a little better. This year, he was solid. Not great, but solid. A kid who I wasn't sure could fight out of a wet paper bag when he was a freshman was about 2 seconds away from qualifying for state. Oh if only he could have held that cradle...
Or Robert Sprude. He left us for a year to attend the NC School for Science and Math. Then he got kicked out for academics. We have a phrase, "Sprude Rule", that means if a coach says it you must stop talking because Robert talks so much. Robert is cerebral and awkward as a wrestler. But he finds ways to win. He will never intimate you with his looks. He is actually the goofiest looking kid, not athletic but rather dorky. He was two points away from qualifying.
These guys are the reasons I coach and the reason, over 24 hours later, my heart is still broken. Brant Harris and Duncan Wilkie were two wins from making it. Their four years were not in vain because I believe wrestling teaches great lessons for young men. They've matured, been challenged and overcome obstacles. They've been a family. They'll be fine. I know it. But it still doesn't make it any easier for their coach to see them leave.