When Kemonte Simons’ mom said boxing was not an option, he turned to wrestling.
And now he is two wins from a high school wrestling state title.
The Detroit Mumford senior is the only representative of the Detroit Public School League competing in the individual wrestling finals this week at the Palace. He won his quarterfinal match Friday morning – defeating Chelsea’s Nick Matusko, 14-8, at 125 pounds – to advance to the evening Division 2 semifinals.
“It’s like boxing,” Simons said when asked why he picked a sport like wrestling in a basketball-dominated neighborhood. “I just like physical sports. I wanted to do boxing, but I couldn’t because my momma didn’t want me getting hit in the head. So I wanted to try something else. When I heard about wrestling I thought it was WWE. I went into the room, and as you know I fell in love with it. I’ve been wrestling since fourth grade.”
According to math teacher and head coach Peter Cunningham, the Mumford program had one wrestler three seasons ago when he launched the program, grew to six last year and now can fill 11 of the 14 weight classes. Simons’ teammates were in the Palace crowd Friday.
“He’s showing our first-year guys what it means to be at this level,” Cunningham said. “We have 10 kids here at the Palace (watching) that didn’t know this existed last year. So, them being able to see someone they know do this, and succeed at this level, that’s something they’ve never even heard of. There’s the saying ‘act like you’ve been here before.’ Well he’s been here before and they’re seeing how he conducts himself and how he prepares at a level of competition they haven’t seen.
“They see what it’s like to fight and lose a match, and how to conduct themselves respectfully, instead of that crap that happens outside the building sometimes. That’s why keeping wrestling in this city is so important. I mean, who needs this sport more than kids who have been written off … as not focused or too violent or all that crap? They need programs like our wrestling program to put them in the right direction.”
Simons (27-4) placed sixth last year and hopes to keep going in the upward direction. He said he is doing better this year at the top position, getting off the bottom and just his general mat wrestling has improved.
“Everything is going good,” he added. “I’ve been working on riding the past two weeks. I’ve been working on my top game, riding it out when I need it. There are no easy points.”
Pizzo in the top eight: After a crushing defeat by tech fall in Friday morning’s quarterfinals, Clawson senior Katlyn Pizzo came roaring back to pin her opponent (freshman Brent Steed of Kingsley) in 5:53 in Division 3 to guarantee her spot as a state placer, no worse than eighth. She is the first girl to place since C.C. Weber of Goodrich took fourth in Division 3 in 2009. Martin’s Amy Berridge placed seventh in 2004. All three are in the 103-pound weight class.
“At that point, it was do or die, gotta get it,” Pizzo said about her attitude leading into the wrestleback round. “Like my dad (Jeffrey) always tells me, treat every match the same. Going out there I had my coach tell me a joke. Then I went out there and on the mat, that’s when I’m mean and I get serious.”
If she wins three more matches, Pizzo would place third.
“Every match I want to win, I want to be the best, I don’t want to be just top eight, I want to be on the top,” she added.
Champ beaten: Defending champ Reece Hughes of Hartland was upset in the Division 1 quarterfinals, 3-1 in overtime, at 140 pounds by Davison’s Brian Case. Hughes was wrestling with an injured shoulder that occurred at regionals and kept him from competing at the team dual state championships.
Milestones: In Friday morning’s quarterfinals at 140 pounds, Fraser’s Danny Pfeffer earned his 200th career win in Division 1. He is 54-0 this year. … Dearborn Edsel Ford junior William Marano earned his 150th career win, in Division 1 at 160. He turned 17 on Friday.