Zac Youngchild and Ty Pelot were wrestling practice partners in kindergarten. They were standouts together on the youth circuit and were freshman teammates at Manitowoc Lincoln before Pelot transferred to Two Rivers.
Since that time, the two have gone their separate ways, each on to top-flight high school standout status.
And both were expecting great things at this weekend’s WIAA State Individual Wrestling Tournament. Pelot was the top-ranked 113-pounder in Division 2, an undefeated star going into State. Youngchild was top-three in Division 1 at 126.
But fate was unkind to both — especially Youngchild — and now both have the incentive to make their senior years as special as possible.
Youngchild was taking part in a routine practice the Monday prior to regionals when he took a blow to the side of the head. Not a hard shot, but enough to see stars.
A new concussion rule, instituted this year, states a wrestler must be cleared by a doctor, then sit an additional five days before returning to action.
Youngchild needed clearance on Tuesday for Saturday’s regional, but failed that day’s test. He said he felt 100 percent by Saturday, but his season was through, a 35-1 record frustratingly unchanged.
“It’s hard to watch the matches,” Youngchild said Saturday. “I should be there.”
Youngchild said he cried, a lot, in the days following the failed test. He’d finally get over it, then regionals came. That took a few days to get over. The Saturday following, “Then you’re at sectionals.”
Of the four semifinalists in his weight class and division at State, Youngchild defeated two of them during the season. That made watching from the Kohl Center stands even more gut-wrenching.
“I just felt like…like I had a chance,” he said.
“It’s definitely going to fuel me. To have a year taken away. One more year, I’m going to go all out.”
Pelot’s story is not as dramatic, but nearly as surprising. The Raiders’ standout cruised into State with a 42-0 record. But in his first match in Madison, he was shocked by J.J. McClelland of Viroqua, 8-4, ending his chances at first or second place.
McClelland is no slouch, and wrestled for the title Saturday evening. But Pelot had beaten McClelland at State last year, and several times in off-season tournaments.
After Friday’s quarterfinal loss, Pelot had no interest in showing up for Saturday’s action.
“I just didn’t want to wrestle anymore. Just give up,” Pelot recalled.
He stewed, angry at himself. “Then I got my head back together, decided I’ve got to be here Saturday anyway, I might as well finish third.”
And that’s just what he did, pinning his two opponents for the bronze.
It’s certainly an impressive achievement, but …
“I wanted first, maybe second. It’s not where I wanted to be,” he said.
The same can be said for Youngchild. Next year, these former teammates get one final opportunity to reach the top of the mountain. If they were missing any final piece of motivation, they have it now.