For the past few wrestling seasons it’s been Star Valley’s voice that rises above the others. Another dominant display last weekend at the 2019 Wyoming State High School Class 3A Wrestling Championships at the Casper Events Center made it four consecutive state championships for the Braves. There have been few teams across Wyoming to be as consistently elite over that stretch. And with a constantly re-loading lineup, an end to that reign lays over the horizon.
Yet, head coach Eddie Clark wanted to say something after the championship round. He wanted to voice his support of Wyoming wrestling’s reputation after multiple Star-Tribune reports over the past 13 months.
“There’s been some bad press for wrestlers in the last few years,” Clark said. “There’s the deal at Kelly (Walsh), the deal at Natrona, the deal at Riverton. And it’s made my heart hurt because wrestlers are great kids.”
Clark referenced three separate Star-Tribune reports. First, there was a report involving allegations against members of the Kelly Walsh wrestling team that they waterboarded a teammate in January 2018. Secondly, there was the report that members of the Natrona County wrestling team were disciplined for an incident occurring on a bus in January of this year. Finally, there was the series of reports that Riverton wrestlers attacked younger teammates on a bus, also in January 2018.
Those attacks resulted in prosecution and jail time for some involved, with the attorney of one defendant saying it was a hazing initiation and that adults within the program knew about it.
“Wrestlers are super kids, they work real hard and they do a lot of stuff,” Clark added. “So moms and dads out there, you’ve got kids coming up, don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. Because we’ve got great kids in our program, we’ve got great kids in every program. There’s not a coach in this state or this town (Casper) that I wouldn’t let my son wrestle for.
“Unfortunately, young kids do dumb things. Hopefully they learn from it. But don’t judge wrestling by those actions because we’ve got a lot of wonderful kids here.”
Clark’s been at the forefront of Star Valley’s emergence. He’s coached the Braves’ past four state championships, including the overwhelming performance the Braves made last Friday to put the 2019 team race out of reach. The Braves put 15 wrestlers into semifinals on Friday but finished just 3-6 in the gold-medal round. One of those three victories came from Haze Child at 120 pounds when he defeated teammate Brayden Andrews in the finals.
That meant a lot of other individuals accomplished their goals to be state champions and went through mighty Star Valley to do it.
There was Pinedale’s Keegan Gehlhausen (126 pounds), who repeated as champion with his 4-2 decision over Star Valley’s Tristan Hicks. That was followed by Lander’s Nathan Redman putting away Grayson Hicks in a 9-3 decision.
“I’ve been working for this for years,” Redman said. “It’s the greatest feeling ever. Going out with a state championship your senior year, that’s what you dream of.”
Riverton’s Ridge Briggs put Star Valley’s upset artist Ren King away by technical fall, Damon Taylor of Rawlins scored a thrilling pin in overtime to beat Star Valley’s Koa DeLong and Douglas’ Cody Pinkerton won his championship at last by pinning Star Valley’s Brennan Harris.
Pinkerton was one of the leaders on a young Douglas team that finished third. His second-place finish from last season weighed on him for months until he finally got his arm raised in the finals.
“I’ve waited so long to know this feeling,” Pinkerton said. “It feels like another match but in another way.”
Three-time champion Reese Karst and two-time champion Brody Karhu led Powell, which edged out Douglas for second in the team standings. Karhu needed medical attention minutes after winning the championship. It was later discovered Karhu wrestled with Influenza A and spent the next day in the emergency room.