When Amante Young sold 50-50 tickets at sporting events to raise money for the Clare (Mich.) wrestling program, the junior often did so with a smile and a little guarantee.
“I’d end up buying 50-50 tickets from him at other athletic events, and each time he promised me a winning ticket,” Clare Public Schools superintendent Jim Walter told the Free Press on Thursday. “I imagine he did that for everyone, but he always did that with a smile and would say, ‘Hey, I’m sure there’s a winner in there.’ That’s how I met and got to know Amante.”
In early March, Young became the first wrestler in Clare history to win an individual state championship after he defeated Lake Fenton’s Hunter Corcoran, 11-6, in the Division 3 125-pound final.
On Tuesday, Young died from injuries he suffered in a car crash May 21 in Midland County. He was 16. Authorities said Young was a passenger in a car that was ran off the road by another vehicle. His car hit an embankment, rolled over and left him and two friends with injuries.
They were transported to MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland. Young’s friends, Koby Lee and Thomas Davis, both 18, were treated for non-life threatening injuries. Young was moved to Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
“It has been a wave of emotions,” Walter said. “It was an incredibly exciting time watching one of your student-athletes pursue, pursue and pursue a dream and then achieve it, and then just a couple of months later, they’ve lost their life.
“I can’t put into words what that means. It was both exciting and exhilarating, and now we’re in the valley of emotions. Part of what made his winning better and what is helping us cope with his loss was his personality. He was able to engage with people of all ages, and he always did so with a smile on his face.”
Aaron Schaaf noticed both Young’s personality and heart about four years ago at a traveling wrestling tournament. The Gladwin, Mich., native, too, saw a winner in Young.
Young grew up in Indiana and didn’t have much support at home. He worked to save money to pay his way to wrestling tournaments, but he’d show up without money for food or a hotel room. It took Schaaf almost two years to realize that, despite Young competing alongside his son, Kyle, in the tournaments.
“We’d go out to dinner, and Amante would ask if it was OK for him to tag along,” Schaaf said. “He’d go to dinner, laugh and smile, and when someone would ask him why he wasn’t eating, he’d say, ‘I’m not hungry. I don’t have money.’ He was too proud to ask. He’d work his tail off to get to tournaments and never had anyone to stay with, but he’d find someone to stay with.”
One time, Young hitched his way from Indiana to New Jersey for a tournament. He had only $150 to his name. It wasn’t enough for a hotel, nor to pay his entry fee into the competition. Schaaf took care of the rest.
“My son came to me and said Amante has got a bad life, and we need to help him,” Schaaf said. “My son asked me to bring him in. I ended up having a conversation with Amante for about an hour and a half. I hardly knew the kid, but we cried in each other’s arms the whole time. I had about a three-minute conversation with his mother, and she gave us custody of him.
“I brought the boy in, treated him like he was my own, gave him the family structure he needed and was a father figure he had never had. I promised him and his mother three things: I’d take care of the cost of his off-season wrestling, I’d make him a state champion, and I would get him a full-ride scholarship to wrestle.”
Schaaf checked off the first two things on that list over the past year, and he and Young were working on getting the junior a scholarship to wrestle at Muskegon Community College. They had hopes of Young one day transferring to a bigger school – perhaps a Division I program – after graduating from junior college.
The Clare community always rooted for Young to succeed.
“The boy had won everybody’s heart, and he always had the biggest smile,” Schaaf said. “I have witnessed him see kids on the wrestling team upset and sad, and he’d bring kids back to life with his smile and jokes. With everything that boy went through in his life, he always tried to keep everyone happy.”
Although Young is gone, Schaaf thinks about Young in heaven. Like Young’s 50-50 tickets, Schaaf is sure there’s a winner up there.
“I feel that the Lord must be in the biggest dual of his life,” Schaaf said. “He took my son, and the Lord has got the best wrestling team, so he must have needed a better 125-pounder to beat the devil. He brought my boy home to get that win.”