CLIMAX – The best high school wrestling teams in the state will represent their schools under the bright lights of Kellogg Arena on Friday and Saturday, while their respective communities cheer them on from the stands.
But when the Division 4 state quarterfinal begins Friday at 1 p.m., those stands will have to accommodate at least three communities watching the action on Mat 4. And one of the teams will be representing two schools.
The Climax-Scotts/Martin cooperative program, in its first year of existence, will be on the big stage when it faces fourth-ranked Decatur. While C-S High School and Martin High School sit in different counties some 48 miles apart, the two schools have forged a team talented enough to be among the eight left standing in Division 4.
“If you take away (the C-S) kids or (C-S) takes away my kids, we’re not going anywhere,” said Pete Boyd, the 27-year wrestling coach for Martin. “We’d be sitting home after districts because we’d both have partial teams. Name me another sport where you need 14 kids of different sizes to make a full team? It doesn’t exist.
“We’ve got less than 160 kids (enrolled), Climax is right around there. You’d be hard-pressed to go around school to find 14 kids who are good athletes to fill 14 different weight classes. From my standpoint, it was a no-brainier — as long as the state approved it.”
While the Michigan High School Athletic Association signed off on the co-op agreement, the arrangement hasn’t been without its critics. In fact, C-S found itself in need of a team to pair with after its previous co-op with Athens High School was dissolved because the Big Eight Conference had banned co-ops in wrestling.
C-S coach Jason Wade, in his 10th season with the Panthers, said he’s heard some of the criticism from outsiders.
“I don’t worry about that all that much. If they have anything to complain about, I just feel it’s evening the playing field,” Wade said. “If we were mediocre at best, nobody would say anything about it. Now that we’ve gotten to where we are, obviously there will always be critics. We do what we do, and those kids, they earned it. They worked hard for it just like anyone else does.”
C-S/Martin — or the ‘Hybrids’ as they like to call themselves — have been far from mediocre. They bring a 22-4 record into the state quarterfinal, where they will take on their Southwestern Athletic Conference rivals in Decatur (29-2).
To reach this point, C-S/Martin won its regional in thrilling fashion — by a combined two points. First they had to get past perennial power Hesperia before topping Kent City for the regional crown.
“Hesperia is a tough team every year. They are vying for a state title virtually every year. We had them first round, and we started off slow,” Wade said. “I think we were nervous, don’t know if we were ready. Some of our better kids that win for us quite often lost. It took one of our juniors and a couple sophomores to get us back on track and stepped up for the guys that didn’t, and I think that’s what great teams do.
“We could have folded easily right there, but the kids are resilient, they battle for each other and would do anything for each other. That’s huge considering these kids didn’t know each other a few months ago.”
Even in the hyper-competitive world of high school athletics, where school and community pride runs deep, the wrestlers from C-S and Martin squashed any differences early on for the sake of the team.
“We really bonded quicker than I thought we would, being our first year,” said C-S junior 152-pounder Zack Mobley. “I definitely think bonding quickly helped us get this far.”
Martin won the Class D championship in 2008, was the Division 4 runner-up in 2004 and Class D runner-up in 1991 and 1987. But for C-S, this run marks the furthest any wrestlers from the school have advanced in the team state tournament.
The fact that they are making school history is not lost on the C-S wrestlers.
“I think we’re getting our due and our recognition that we worked for,” said C-S junior 145-pounder Todd Myers. “I think (the co-op has) worked out well and we’ve bonded really well. We are able to field a full team and be a viable opponent in competition… We’re all one team.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley
MHSAA TEAM WRESTLING FINALS
At Kellogg Arena
Division 1 – 3:15 p.m.
•Mat 1: Brighton (26-1) vs. Oxford (16-7)
•Mat 2: Detroit Catholic Central (22-3) vs. Davison (19-6)
•Mat 3: Hartland (29-3) vs. Monroe (37-3)
•Mat 4: Anchor Bay (36-0) vs. Grand Haven (26-3)
Division 2 – 7:45 p.m.
•Mat 1: Lowell (26-2) vs. Comstock Park (19-9)
•Mat 2: Gaylord (39-1) vs. Flint Kearsley (35-5)
•Mat 3: Niles (23-3) vs. Tecumseh (32-4)
•Mat 4: Eaton Rapids (39-2) vs. Warren Lincoln (21-9)
Division 3 – 5:30 p.m.
•Mat 1: Dundee (23-5) vs. Mason County Central (29-7)
•Mat 2: Saginaw Swan Valley (39-1) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (19-3)
•Mat 3: Remus Chippewa Hills (26-3) vs. Allegan (29-6)
•Mat 4: Richmond (29-5) vs. Birch Run (22-9)
Division 4 – 1 p.m.
•Mat 1: New Lothrop (26-1) vs. Cass City (40-10)
•Mat 2: Manchester (28-7) vs. Leroy Pine River (25-5)
•Mat 3: Hudston (21-5) v. Norway (18-5)
•Mat 4: Climax-Scotts/Martin (22-4) vs. Decatur (29-2)
Division 1: 9:30 a.m.
Division 2: 11:45 a.m.
Division 3: 11:45 a.m.
Division 4: 9:30 a.m.
Finals – 4 p.m.