I’ve always loved the Missouri State Wrestling Championships, and I’ve never made this a secret. Not exactly sure of what drew me into the sport. I did hang around classmate and current Platte County assistant coach Kiel Giese and other classmates who wrestled a lot. The Pirates were, and continue to be, an elite program so maybe that’s part of it.
Everyone likes a winner.
For the past 10 years, I went to state wrestling while working at the St. Joseph News-Press. I was tasked with keeping track of more than 100 wrestlers during the three-day event each time.
I never covered a state tournament like I did this past weekend.
Yes, I shot pictures for the first time which was a huge change, and no, I didn’t have the nightly deadlines to worry about, which meant I wasn’t dumping 100-plus inches of copy (read: a lot of words in newspaper lingo) on my horrified editors.
But the main difference was the quality I witnessed while covering wrestling this season.
The four schools in Platte County with a wrestling program produced 13 medalists and seven state finalists. Five went on to win championships, and four of those were repeat winners. The other became an undefeated champion as a junior.
Oh by the way, Park Hill won the Class 4 team title, and Platte County added to its trophy collection with a second-place showing in Class 3 — the Pirates’ first top-four finish at that level.
I could cover wrestling another 10 years here and not see this again, especially when you consider that at least three wrestlers are going to continue their careers at the Division I collegiate level.
You can read more — and probably way more than you care about — in this week’s sports section. It starts on B1 and runs through B5.
What I want to talk about here is how much I enjoyed this chance to really experience the state tournament. I didn’t have to run around like crazy, or at least as bad as in the past. I really got to observe matches and spend time around the wrestlers and coaches.
And what a great group.
Ke-Shawn Hayes, Colston DiBlasi, Canten Marriott and Sean Hosford now own nine individual and three team state titles between them. Yet, they remained grounded and humbled throughout the experience. Heck, Hosford returned two months after breaking his left tibia and tried to wrestle up two weight classes. He went 1-2, despite entering as a two-time champion, all because he wanted to try and help the team.
Hosford scored one point, but he feared the Trojans might not score enough points to earn the three-peat. They did with a bit of room to spare, and Hosford didn’t regret the decision.
And then there’s Platte County’s finalist trio.
Matthew Schmitt, a junior, won his second state title and continues to display the moxie of a wrestler always determined to get better. He’s already thinking about going undefeated next year because he lost twice this season to elite out-of-state opponents during the Pirates’ brutal tournament schedule.
Ethan Karsten, another junior who won his second straight title, continued to show his personality that adds a little mischievous fun to Platte County’s success. He likes to joke, but he also understands that hard work and dedication have helped him rise to this level.
There’s a clear respect for opponents, especially Harrisonville freshman Braden Danner after he pushed Karsten to the limit for a second straight week.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to Platte County junior Johnny Blankenship after his finals disappointment. I’d guess he’s ready to move forward and win his second state championship.
I’ve been impressed all year with his humble attitude, and I guarantee one loss didn’t change that mindset.
What I’m trying to say is that there is elite wrestling talent in Platte County right now, and that’s even during a struggling season for Park Hill South (one state medal for fourth-year wrestler Dylen Propes) and a mostly down state tournament for West Platte (three qualifiers but Justin Rhodes finishing as runner-up).
On top of that, they seem like good kids.
While listening to my interviews and writing stories Monday afternoon, I came to that conclusion. I tweeted out that I could sit and talk wrestling with them all day and meant every word of that. I certainly love the state wrestling tournament, and this will be a memorable experience for me.
Speaking of congratulations, I’d like to thank all of the local business who bought ads to celebrate the athletic accomplishments of our high school athletes this past weekend.
I hadn’t yet mentioned Park Hill South’s second straight third-place finish in the Missouri State Swimming and Diving Championships. You can read more about that in the sports section, too.
The congratulatory ads are spread out through this week’s paper and bunched together where possible. A few of them are at the bottom of this page.
So again, thanks to the community partners willing to band together and recognize these accomplishments. And to the readers, go visit these places.
Might as well make this whole column about sports since we’ve come this far.
The winter sports season nears conclusion with wrestling and swimming already over and one local basketball team eliminated from postseason play as of Tuesday afternoon. Districts have begun for small schools in hoops with the big schools set to follow suit next week, although Class 4 District 16 with Platte County does open with two girls games on Saturday.
For those wanting to see Platte County, Park Hill and Park Hill South, you will have to take a drive. Class 4 District 16 is at Savannah this year with Class 5 District 16 just down the road at St. Joseph Central.
By the looks of the brackets, we should see three teams — Park Hill girls, North Platte girls and either the Park Hill or Park Hill South boys —make the playoffs this year, more if anyone can make an upset run.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.