It was an especially tough loss to swallow for Donte Bolds, that first match Saturday morning in the Class AAAA Upper State wrestling tournament at Laurens High School.
“It really broke my heart,” he said, “because if I had won that match, I would have had a definite spot at state. I ended up having to battle again to get there.”
As if Bolds, a senior at Woodmont High School, hadn’t battled just to get there Saturday in the first place.
Less than 12 hours earlier, he and his family had watched their house burn, . Now he was trying to keep that out of his head, knowing his family was at a Comfort Inn in Simpsonville trying to cope with the tragedy?
“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Bolds said. “But when I got to the tournament, it was just sitting in my head like, ‘Dang, my house really just burned down, and I’m here.’ “
Bolds won his first two matches in the tournament Friday night, advancing to the semifinals in the 152-pound weight class.
He returned to Woodmont High School on the bus with the team and then got a ride home with a friend. Bolds, his parents and two younger brothers lived in a one-story, four-bedroom home not far down West Georgia Road from the high school.
When he got home a little after 10 p.m., he woke his parents to tell them how he had done — both had been working — and then went to his room. One of his brothers started cooking some food in the kitchen and asked Bolds if he wanted anything; he said he wasn’t hungry.
Bolds said shortly after that he heard his brother yell, but he thought he had just burned himself. Then Bolds heard his brother tell their father there was a fire.
“I didn’t think it was that big a deal, because we’ve had little small fires that my dad’s put out easily before,” Bolds said. “But then when my dad said, ‘Everybody get out of the house,’ I was like, ‘OK, what’s going on?’ I walked in there, and it was like an inferno rising up onto the ceiling.
“I just stood there frozen. I couldn’t believe it. Then my mom was yelling, ‘Get out of the house! Get out of the house!’ “
Then Donte realized he had left his wrestling bag in his bedroom. He ran back in to get it. The flames were getting close to his room.
“Before we completely got out of the house, that was the only thing I grabbed,” he said. “It didn’t burn completely to the ground, but it was in flames.”
Valerie Drayton, Bolds’ mother, said the fire department arrived within about 10 minutes, at about 10:30 or 10:40, but the fire already had done great damage.
“I lost everything,” she said.
The family arrived at the Comfort Inn at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
“My mom was trying to get me to go to sleep because I had to wrestle, but I didn’t want to leave them,” Bolds said.
“I know we just suffered a loss, and we didn’t really get into a hotel till about 2:30 or 3 o’clock in the morning, and he had to be at the school by 7,” Drayton said. “But he really needed that because he’s young, and I know kids that go through that, it weighs heavy on them if they don’t do something to occupy their mind.
“His wrestling, he doesn’t miss it for anything, so I think he really needed to get out and do that and be with his teammates who could lift his spirits up.”
“It put the tournament in perspective,” said Woodmont wrestling coach Tim Sexton. “All the coaches think that’s one of the biggest tournaments of the year, and I was kind of doing the same thing. I was thinking about where the guys are in the bracket and everything else. Then I heard about what happened. Really the tournament wasn’t important anymore. I was thinking about Donte and his family.
“I understand there are bigger things than this out there, and in 20 years he might not even remember who he wrestled, but I was just hoping he could have his career end with him wrestling on the mat versus a tragedy keeping him out. I’m glad his mom decided they’d take care of where they’re going to live, what they’re going to do with all their stuff, that kind of thing.”
Bolds, meanwhile, took care of his opponents. Eventually.
After losing in the semifinals, Bolds regrouped. He had to wrestle Nation Ford’s Jakob Gravely, with the winner earning a berth in the state tournament.
“At that moment, I knew I had to pull myself back together,” he said. “It wasn’t a time to lose focus. It was my last chance.
“I went upstairs. I sat there. I thought and thought, listened to my music. I thought again. My coach came up to me and said, ‘This is it.’ When my name got called, it was time to go. I had to push that match out of my head and focus on this one.”
Bolds defeated Gravely by decision, 6-1. He had earned a berth in the state tournament, scheduled for Saturday at the Civic Center of Anderson.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “It’s really hard to explain. At that moment, I couldn’t believe it. When I looked over to my coaches’ corner, everybody was clapping and smiling. It was like, ‘Yes! I’m going to state now! Everything else didn’t matter at the moment besides me achieving one of my goals in my senior year.”
For good measure, Bolds also beat York’s Chance Dickson, 8-6, in the third-place match.
But that was by no means the next-best thing that happened at the tournament. Laurens coach Rob Sheffield got wind of the fact that Bolds’ family was in need, and he announced that one of the wrestlers in the tournament had lost his house in a fire. No name, no school.
“They raised $1,000 in an hour and a half, just the wrestling community coming together, trying to take care of one of their own,” Sexton said. “That showed a lot about the sport of wrestling.
“We can be fierce competitors on the mat, but when it comes to off the mat and there’s a real need, they’ll take care of another wrestler. Whether he’s from their school or not, it didn’t matter. That was really, really heartwarming.”
“It was an emotional moment,” said Bolds. “I had to bury myself into one of my teammate’s shoulders. Then one of the Laurens wrestlers came up and talked to me about how his family had lost their family business to a fire. That was another emotional moment.
“At that moment, I not only had a biological family, but I truly had another family. I’ve been with this family for two years, and I was grateful that I had them.”
The wrestling family circled the mat to take care of Bolds, who has been with the sport for just two years, and his family.
In addition, Drayton said people have been donating clothes and gift cards for food. A fund has been set up on Facebook, and a man Drayton said she’s never met, Jaquin Hawthorne, is holding a food drive Sunday at Sterling Gym in Greenville for the family.
I don’t know what he looks like. He just told me he’d be wearing a number 20 jersey,” she said. “He posted on my Facebook. I will be there. Some stranger I don’t even know is doing something for me and my family. That’s a blessing.”
The family continues to look for a three- or four-bedroom house, their main struggle among many.
Bolds is familiar with overcoming a loss and moving forward. He and his family have been forced to do so on a much bigger scale, but they’re fortunate to be surrounded by people who know all about getting up off the mat.
YOU CAN HELP
To donate to Donte Bolds and his family, go to the Woodmont Wildcats Wrestling page on Facebook and look for the Donte Bolds Family Fire Fund. Also, there will be a food drive at the Sterling Gym in Greenville at 4 p.m. Sunday.