It’s tormenting even haunting.
Being so close. Then having your dream squashed and mangled like roadkill.
Dove Creek’s Cole Baughman couldn’t help but glance up at the person a step higher on the podium. Cole forced a smile and graciously congratulated Adam Baca of Rocky Ford.
A few minutes earlier, Baca had his hand raised in victory and now he was holding a gold medal, while Cole was left clutching silver and a crater of torment.
This is state wrestling.
The contrast between wrestlers in the championship match is almost painful to witness. As the winner breaks out in wild celebration, his coaches, family and teammates join in. The defeated wrestler slumps to the mat, buries his face in his hands, drops his head and waits for the wrong arm to be raised.
There are tears of disappointment, there is pain and there is torment of getting so close, only to see the dream snatched away.
Jubilation and torment. This is state high school wrestling.
Cole talks about getting better. Everyone who came close and left with a medal that wasn’t gold, talks about getting back into “the room,” back to work. The room is where the foundation of gold is constructed. The wrestling room is where practice prepares youngsters to be men. Prepares them to be humble in victory and hungry in defeat.
Winning a high school state wrestling title is an Everest-like accomplishment.
For Ryan Daves of Montezuma-Cortez, he was two seconds, yes two seconds, away from a third fourth-place medal.
But this time, he used those final two seconds to score two points and return home with a bronze medal. He has one more shot at the title. He will return to the room and work in hopes of moving up two spots on the podium.
Even Cole’s dad and coach, Shane Baughman, talks about torment. He remembers his high school wrestling days at Durango where his dad was the coach.
“Back then it was different. It was one and out, so if you lost, you were done,” he said. When he finishes the tale about a gut-wrenching loss to the No. 1 ranked wrestler from Cherry Creek, he capitalizes the torment in six words.
“It’s still tough to talk about.”
His son was two minutes away from a title. Tied at 2-2 going into the final period, Cole let a couple of holds barely slip away, and the result was the wrong arm being raised, taking his place on the wrong step of the podium.
For Wyatt Wade of Dolores, he sums up his season with the word “rough.”
Battling nagging injuries and health problems, the talented junior saw his season of hope spiral into a tormenting nightmare.
Last year, he was the one looking up from the second-place podium spot. This was supposed to be the year when he would move up one spot.
But state wrestling is a cruel and unmerciful endeavor. Your opponent cares little if you’re not 100 percent. Survival of the fittest — there is never any mercy or sympathy.
Wyatt talks about his health.
“I need to figure things out and get my body healthy,” he said, as he was leaving the Pepsi Center.
He didn’t feel like talking. Who would? A body not healthy and a season of hope torn to shreds and a head full of torment on not taking gold.
Even with his struggles and disappointment, Wyatt returned home with a fourth-place medal.
For all these underclassmen, the rallying cry is “NEXT YEAR!” Next year will be gold, next year the correct arm will be raised.
Then there is freshman Chance Randolph of Dove Creek. A bronze medal in his first trip to state. What an accomplishment. Even he felt the torment of coming close. A questionable penalty point late in the semifinals helped keep him from the title match.
But just because he was third as a freshman, there are no guarantees that he is destined for a state title.
Just ask Ryan Daves, who now has two fourths and a third in his three tries. Ask Wyatt Wade, who now has a second and a fourth the last two years. Ask Cole Baughman, who was tied with two minutes left and lost 7-2.
Health, skill, luck, timing — everything goes into the formula of winning a state title.
For every wrestler who takes the mat for the final time at state, there will be one winner and one loser. Jubilation and disappointment.
Everyone who returns home with a medal has achieved something very special.
But it’s only the gold that can bury the torment, banish the anguish, eliminate the pain of coming close.
For Cole, Ryan, Wyatt and Chance, next year is a long ways away. The work for gold will soon begin. The quest of taking the top spot on the podium will serve as their motivation.
Ask Shane Baughman about torment that wasn’t vanquished with gold.
Will next year be the year for Cole, Ryan, Wyatt and Chance?
They are not alone in their quest. Everyone in the room dreams of gold.
This is state wrestling.
You earn everything. And if the correct arm is raised and your medal is gold, it will be your turn to step upon the highest point in high school wrestling.
Reach Dale Shrull at email@example.com.