A standout Spencer, Iowa, wrestler died after collapsing earlier in the day during a championship match at his hometown tournament.
Austin Roberts, a returning state medalist, fell to the mat after a stoppage in action in the final minute of the Spencer Invitational’s 220-pound title match. The Spencer senior was wrestling Sioux Center’s Ko Kieft, an all-state football player who recently accepted a scholarship to play at Minnesota.
“There was about 30 seconds left and the score was tied and they went out of bounds,” Sioux Center coach Aaron Schmidt said. “We came back to the center to get reset and we got set and the Roberts boy asked for injury time and couldn’t seem to quite catch his breath.
“Then injury time was up and there was a good, classy exchange at the end of the match and we were hoping he was all right. At that point, he seemed to just be unable to catch his breath.”
Schmidt said it was a clean and competitive bout between two talented seniors, both of whom won matches at the state tournament in February. The Sioux Center coach said nothing occurred during the match that would have set off alarms about Roberts’ physical well-being.
“Not a single thing,” Schmidt said. “No slam, no hit heads, nothing. It was about as clean and classy as can be. It was one of those matches people would’ve continued to watch at the state tournament if it had been down there.”
Schmidt said an emergency response team tended to Roberts at the tournament. He passed away later Saturday night at Spencer Hospital, according to a hospital spokesperson.
It’s the first Iowa high school wrestling-related death in recent memory.
Roberts was ranked sixth in Class 3A at 220 pounds. He placed eighth at the state meet in February.
The 6-foot-4 senior also played on the offensive and defensive lines for the Spencer football team.
“Austin Roberts was a larger than life character. He had a large heart with a personality that could light up the room. We have had the great opportunity to watch Austin grow in recent years from a young child to mature young adult. His attitude about wrestling and football was second only to his attitude about life. He enjoyed many other things than sports including cars, trucks, motorcycles and snowmobiles,” Spencer’s wrestling coaches (co-head coaches Adam Gress and Ryan Pratt and assistants Josh Pratt and David Schaefer) said in a statement released Sunday.
“Through wrestling we saw his personality change from a shy quiet kid into a confident, outgoing person, who others on the team and in the school could look up to. There is was no mistaking who Austin was through his appearance at 6’4” and 220 pounds of pure muscle on the mat. In his matches his intensity attracted all eyes in the gym. Win or lose, Austin was still the same young man; one with a kindness unmatched by anyone.
“The Spencer Tigers, the city of Spencer, the state of Iowa and the wrestling community have lost a great kid. Austin will be missed by many.
“Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with his family — Travis, Lori, Melany and Shae as they cope with this tragic loss.
“Thank you to everyone who has shown their support across the state and the nation, the wrestling family is one of a kind.”
Roberts told the Sioux City Journal earlier this month that he was thinking about attending Iowa Central Community College next year to continue both wrestling and playing football. He also hoped to return to the state tournament in February to compete for a state title.
Spencer co-coach Ryan Pratt said earlier this month that Roberts set a strong example for younger wrestlers.
“It is never a question of how hard he is working,” Pratt told the Sioux City Journal in early December.
School officials planned to offer grief counseling at the high school Sunday. A youth wrestling tournament that had been scheduled in Spencer on Sunday was cancelled.
A GoFundMe account for Roberts family had raised nearly $25,000 in about 11 hours. The account is listed here. https://www.gofundme.com/y6fpwgz8
The Associated Press contributed to this report