Here is an unbeaten season to be celebrated, never mind it lasted a scant 51/2 minutes.
One hundred and twenty-four nights after enduring the most agonizing and shocking athletic mishap he’ll ever experience, Sammy Davis Jr. triumphed. Over his opponent. Over frustration and apprehension, nerves and memories.
Unlike his black-clad Union-Endicott teammates, he donned an orange singlet Thursday night for the match that would begin and end his wrestling season. Orange is reserved for special occasions, and damned if this wasn’t one of them.
“It’s our finals singlet,” Sammy said of the orange, generally worn by a Tiger in a tournament final. Thursday night brought a garden-variety dual meet for all but him.
“I was just thinking that tonight is my first and my last match so, I wanted to start with a bang and go out with a bang,” Sammy said.
That would be contrary to his most recent athletic competition, which ended with a snap — of bone in his lower left leg, to be exact.
Twenty-two yards into a rush that pushed him past the 100-yard mark for a third consecutive football game, Sammy was pulled down by one Vestal defender as another engaged his leg. Dislocated and fractured in two spots was his description of the damage.
It was midway into the final quarter Sept. 29 when Ty Cobb Stadium went quiet, that uneasy, squirmy kind of extended quiet, until thousands in attendance warmed to a heartfelt applause as Sammy was wheeled on a stretcher to an ambulance at the east end of the field.
“I was in excruciating pain. It was so bad,” he said. “It was to the point where I couldn’t feel my ankle at all. And then my other leg, like, every other part of my body was shaking. I was so scared.”
U-E’s best back, a young man who had logged a fourth consecutive two-touchdown game, was finished for the football season and maybe, given the horrific nature of the injury, for wrestling season as well.
Only, he had other ideas.
It wasn’t but a couple weeks later that he returned to the weight room to tend to his upper body, which those present Thursday at U-E saw has been tended to with a good bit of vigor. The kid is ripped.
He gained medical clearance a couple weeks back to return to the mat. But there were other forms of consent to be secured.
“Basically, everybody tried to talk me out of it — our athletic trainer, my Dad, especially my Mom,” Sammy said. “She didn’t want me going out there. I convinced her to let me go.”
Thursday wasn’t entirely about Sammy, far from it. Not only was it Senior Night, with Nate Bomysoad, Kyle Hughes and Sean McMahon recognized and saluted pre-match, but this was Vestal in the house.
Late-to-start was the first of a handful of junior varsity matches, and then luck of the draw had 99-pounders first to the mat for the featured attraction. Which meant a certain anxious 170-pounder who had waited four months for his moment would have to wait, with mind racing and whatever passes for music that pours through a teenager’s headphones these days.
A little before 9 p.m., with U-E leading the Golden Bears by 28-16, it was Go Time.
“I was kind of nervous going out there because I didn’t know if my ankle could hold up, because I hadn’t been in a real match until now,” Sammy admitted. “But then when I got out there, it all went away.”
And the instincts resurfaced, and the strength and technical ability that helped him to runner-up finishes last year in STAC and Section 4, were exhibited.
A takedown and near-fall in the opening minute put him ahead for keeps. It was 7-1 after one period, 12-1 after the second. Then, in command by 16-3 with 23.1 seconds remaining in the bout, official Mike Stephens’ palm forcibly smacked the mat to signal victory by fall.
Tough to tell who was more thrilled, the young man who will finish his junior season with a 1-0 record or the many who made their way to offer high-fives and embraces and well wishes when the match had concluded with U-E on top by 44-28.
Sammy’s victory, turns out, wasn’t mere icing, at least not from his perspective. Gratifying as the return to competition was, “I felt like if I didn’t go out there and win, then I wouldn’t have done my job for the team.”
And how to celebrate culmination of a long journey back?
“I’m probably going to go home and do a whole bunch of homework,” he said through that 100-watt smile of his.
But the question had to be asked: Why, given the risk, come back for a single match? Clearance or no, why so much as test that plate and those seven screws in the surgically repaired leg one time?
“I just wanted to get back into things. I just wanted to get this match in,” Sammy said. “I couldn’t stand being out of everything.”
Continued success, young man. You’ve earned it.