Last week, I was walking to the Bartow High School gym and greeted by the sounds of basketballs. While most wouldn’t find that to be unusual, it was because there was supposed to be a wrestling match that night.
Inside, the mat was on the floor, but off to the side because the BHS JV boys basketball team was finishing practice, so the wrestling match was going to have to wait. It was just as well since the opponent hadn’t arrived yet anyway.
On this night, the JV wrestling squad was going to conduct some intrasquad matches to set the stage for the varsity’s match against Sebring. When the floor was cleared and the air quieted from the dribbling sound, the mat was put in its rightful place and the chairs were set up, just in time for the arrival of the Blue Streaks. Varsity teams went off to their weigh-ins and JV squad members headed to the center of the circle, two at a time. Spectators started arriving, one or two at a time, included a few to support the visitors.
Each varsity team took a short warm-up and stretching period before getting down to the business at hand. During weigh-in, a card was selected to determine the order of the matches. This night would start with the 220-pound class and go from there. It was time to get started.
The first match went the distance, three two-minute rounds. It was back and forth. Bartow had the early lead, but Sebring closed it with a penalty point and then the Sebring wrestler was able to escape a hold. Sebring took the early overall lead.
Their lead lasted 59 seconds. That was all the time needed for the Bartow wrestler to pin his opponent and a pin carries more weight in the total score. It took 44 seconds to change the situation as results were coming fast and furious. This time, it was Sebring getting the pin. This had the makings of a good match.
There are 13 matches in a competition. Sebring only brought wrestlers for 12 classes, which gave Bartow a walk-over win. The pins kept coming with Sebring getting their next one after 43 seconds. Bartow needed 18 seconds to decide the next match. It was really back and forth as now Bartow held an 18-15 lead.
It didn’t look too good for the home team, though. The Sebring wrestler took an early 4-0 lead within the first minute. The advantage changed with a two-point reversal, but points became irrelevant when the Bartow wrestler secured the pin with 11 seconds left in the round.
A scoreless first round led to a flurry in the next rounds as this match went the distance with a 5-3 Bartow win. Another Bartow pin, with the Sebring wrestler again holding the point advantage before being sent to the mat, put the Jackets in a very good position with three matches to go.
There was no quit in Sebring and everybody in the place, including the Bartow coaching staff, knew that. Sebring beat Bartow big in 2011 and no one forgot that. Bartow had the incentive not to let it happen again. Sebring got a much needed pin, this one late in the first round. Their team captain, a good wrestler, would take the floor. The match went the distance, but Sebring was awarded an extra point for a large margin of point differential (and a shutout to boot). With two matches left, Sebring was closing the gap.
It soon became academic. Bartow gained a 3-2 advantage after the first round and sealed the deal with a pin at 28 seconds into the second round. The last match was far from unimportant because there are individual achievements at stake. While Sebring couldn’t win the overall, they did get the moral victory of the final pin.
“This was a big win for us,” said head coach Vince Tolley. “They killed us last year and we will be seeing them again later in the season.”
Tolley is in his second year at the helm of the Bartow wrestling squad. With help from coaches Dennis Sturgill and Brandon Smith, the program is heading away from the one-win season last year to better standing. The Sebring win put the team at 7-4 and it could have been 9-2 if a few breaks had fallen the other way. A former high school wrestler at Kathleen, Tolley cites many strengths on the squad, including the senior leadership and depth at several of the weight classes. The team is hitting the time of the year where distractions like the holiday can pull the athletes away (think maintaining weight) from purpose and practice. The remaining schedule is far from easy. The team faces off in the Polk County Duals this weekend before taking that holiday break, hoping to regain momentum toward big tournaments and the district matches in late January. Senior Night is Jan. 17, the only remaining match in the Bartow High School gym.
On any given night, only 13 athletes get the chance to take the floor. Those not participating on that night are enthusiastically supporting their teammates and keeping the spirit of victory in sight.
The following wrestlers participated in the Sebring match: Michael Robinson (freshman, 106), Cory Trudeau (sophomore, 113), Antonio Glenn (freshman, 120), Seth Sturgill (freshman, 126), Brian Pennington (senior, 132), Vandy Hawk (senior, 138), Trey Sturgill (senior, 145), Kyle Brown (senior, 152), Shaquille King (junior, 160), Avery Tolley (senior, 170), Clayton Moore (junior, 182), Gavin Osborn (senior, 195), Rashad Wright (senior, 220) and Jonathan Harner (senior, 285). There are about 30 wrestlers on the Bartow squad (A complete list is planned for our next story just before senior night).