Covering the state wrestling tournament is always a bit of an adventure.
This past weekend, I held down the Daily Globe’s coverage of the tournament for the second straight year. On Thursday — the lightest of the three days — it is all team competition. This year, we covered Wabasso/Red Rock Central, which ended up wrestling three duals and taking sixth. Friday and Saturday is all individuals, and that’s where things can get a little crazy.
In all, we had 24 wrestlers make the state tournament. (That’s actually down from 29 last year and less than half of what some papers have to deal with. But hey, when you’re still figuring out a system that works for you, it can be a bit daunting.) The first day is wild just trying to keep track of everyone, how they’ve done and what happens next for each of them.
By the second day, some of the wrestlers have been eliminated so the quantity is down. Still, the matches are getting bigger and bigger with each round for those who remain. As a reporter, you start thinking about who you might want to pay special attention to as it’s a unique story, who has a legitimate shot of taking a title, etc. Then, you start hunting down interviews and taking photos, which can be a bit hectic in itself.
Needless to say, by the time wrestling has concluded Saturday night, I’m ready to sleep about 14 straight hours.
But I love it.
While it is a lot of work, there is something special about the state wrestling tournament, even in relation to others. The drama and raw emotion displayed by athletes, coaches and even fans is at a level I haven’t noticed at some of the other state events I’ve covered. You can’t help but get wrapped up in it.
Each year, there is something unique and truly incredible to witness. This year, the talk of the tournament was Mark Hall, a senior 170-pounder at Apple Valley.
Hall entered the tournament with a chance to make Minnesota high school wrestling history as the first six-time individual state champion. That’s right, he won titles every year from grades 7-11, making him just the sixth person to even win five.
I don’t know Mark Hall and there’s a decent chance our paths will never cross. But by all accounts, he’s a great guy, known as an excellent leader in the wrestling room and in the community. Everyone seemed to be rooting for him — not just the potential history he could make.
All of that was on display on the second day of the tournament. When Hall won by technical fall in the semifinals, his opponent slammed his head-gear to the mat and was, frankly, making a bit of a scene. Hall calmly went over to him and appeared to tell him to keep his head, that he still had wrestling to do. He could have just walked away, instead he took the opportunity to help a fellow competitor.
Hall was dominant again in the finals. Luckily, I was able to watch.
It took him only 2:50 to win by technical fall, 16-1 — which is about as dominant of a match as you’re going to see in the state finals. The whole arena stood and applauded as the referee raised his arm in victory. As soon as that was done, he hugged his coach and headed for the stands, embracing his family and his biggest fan, Bobby Ginther, a young man with Down syndrome.
From what I could see, Hall’s character shone through in the way he handled himself. According to an article published by the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week, Hall could have left Apple Valley and spent his senior year of high school in Colorado at the Olympic Training Center. He didn’t. As such, he needs to win a Last Chance Trials Qualifier in early April in order to wrestle in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
If he had stayed in Colorado, his odds of making the Olympic Team probably would have been much greater. But he explained to Pioneer Press reporter Jace Frederick why he decided to return to Apple Valley:
“Wrestling alone isn’t the top thing in my life — I value friends, I value being a kid (and) being in high school with my friends,” he said. “That stuff just outweighed being in Colorado and staying out by myself for the next six months. … If I’d stayed in Colorado I’d have the regret of not coming back and giving it one more run.”
Personally, I will be pulling hard for Hall to make the Olympic Team. That’s the type of young man I want representing my country.