Polk Middle wrestlers short on numbers, but not competitive spirit

As has too often been the case this season, the outcome had long been decided Monday for Polk County Middle School’s wrestling team by the time the day’s final three matches arrived.

You wouldn’t have known that by the way the Wolverines wrestled in those matches, which perhaps says all you need to know about the 11 members who now comprise this year’s squad.

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A team that has been short in numbers all season has never been without spirit or fight. So when Ricky Williams, roughly a week into his wrestling career, stepped to the mat at 195 pounds, perhaps it was no surprise that he battled for three periods, losing a 5-4 decision but being ever, ever so close to getting a near fall in the final seconds that would have given him a win.

And certainly it was no surprise when Hayden Shumate, the team’s captain and leader, scored a second-period pin at 222 pounds. Or when Orlando Baltazar capped the day with a first-period pin in his heavyweight match.

The final score? Rugby, always a force in Blue Ridge Middle School Conference wrestling, earned a 79-18 victory. But Polk Middle head coach Ben Johnson could still manage a smile at match’s end.

“The kids are hanging in there and giving it all they’ve got,” Johnson said. “For most of them, this is their first season. Our 195-pounder (Williams) came out after Christmas and has had three days of mat time.

“I’m proud of how they’ve progressed this year, and I’m looking forward to next year. Our eighth graders have carried us this year. But the seventh graders are learning and picking up things really fast.”

A middle school wrestling bout has 17 individual matches. Polk County Middle began the season having to forfeit nine weight classes in every match, giving the opponent 54 points and ensuring a loss before the first wrestler touched the floor. Johnson has worked to recruit more kids to join the team, but the Wolverines still had to forfeit six classes on Monday.

“We’ve got to get more interest out there among younger kids,” Johnson said. “We had some problems this year with kids who didn’t want to wrestle because wrestlers have to wear singlets. We’ve got to get over that kind of stuff.

“We face a lot of really, really good teams that have a lot of club wrestlers. That’s one thing we need to get started here, get kids going to club wrestling. That would help us grow and get better.”

The Wolverines have three matches remaining this season, including the home finale Jan. 21 against Hendersonville Middle. Johnson knows it will be an uphill battle for Polk to win any of those three, but that doesn’t mean Polk Middle won’t stop trying.

“We’ll keep working hard,” he said. “They’ll get there.”