Almost forgotten amongst the joys and heartbreaks of the state wrestling tournament, a Mount Airy wrestler hit a milestone recently.
With dreams of state titles falling left and right among the 1,400 teens at the Greensboro Coliseum, junior Shay Wilson won his 100th career match in the consolation semifinals.
Wilson, an all-conference tailback on the football team, joined the wrestling team late. He entered the season with an impressive career record of 67-28 (70.5 percent).
Through the end of the calendar year, he would slightly better that mark, going 16-4.
January brought about the start of conference play, as well as the conference, regional and state tournaments.
“He wrestled like a different person once the conference got going,” said Cody Atkins, the Bears’ assistant coach this past season.
Wilson went 15-1 through the regional tournament. His only loss came in the regional final to Mitchell’s Dalton Beaver by a narrow 4-3 decision.
The junior went to the state tournament determined to bring home a state title. In the first round, he slammed his opponent into the mat twice and nearly had a pin in the first period.
In the second, Dalton Robinson, Chatham Central, caught Wilson in a head lock and finished the match.
“I think you really see how much heart and determination kids have when they lose in a tournament like states and they make a choice to push themselves, wrestle back and get third,” said Atkins.
Mom Benita Wilson said Shay was determined to succeed when he left the coliseum after that loss.
“He said when we left Friday night, ‘I will come in third place,’” said Benita.
“He had his mind set, and he was ready to go,” said mom. “I was nervous, but I always get nervous when he wrestles.”
“Shay’s athletic ability is unbelievable,” said Atkins. “You can’t coach that.” Instead, Atkins has focused on improving Shay’s technique, like keeping his elbows tucked in when he shoots so the defender can’t hook his arms.
Going into the consolation bracket that Saturday morning, Wilson pinned Walkertown’s Logan Nelson (a 27-match winner) in the second period. That gave him 99 career wins.
The chance for 100 would come against Beaver, the West regional champion. Unlike the 4-3 loss the week before, Wilson took command and won easily 8-2 to reach the consolation finals.
Then in the semifinals, Robinson was beaten by East Montgomery’s Antonio Hill 2-1 to fall into the consolation bracket. That meant that Wilson would get a rematch with the wrestler who bested him the day before.
Wilson avenged that loss with a 5-3 win to clinch third in the state.
According to his coach and family, it really bugged Wilson that East Wilkes’ Woodie won the state title because Wilson had beaten Woodie 8-2 at the regional level, so the junior had an excellent chance to have been state champion.
He finished the season 34-6 (85 percent), with 23 of those wins by pin. His career mark is now 101-34.
Beaver, Hill and Nelson will all be back next year, so Shay might have to beat these guys if he wants to win a title his senior year, noted Atkins.
Next up, however, is taking part in a national tournament at Virginia Beach in a few weeks.
Wilson will be joined by teammates Jacob Hogue, Triston Mabry, Landon Mumford and Cameron Pack.
Next year, Atkins steps up to replace a coach who has moved to the coast.
Steve Braune, who along with co-coach Michael Bodnar, turned the Bears’ wrestling team around in just three short years.
Braune said his work took him out of town frequently this past season, so Cody took over more and more practice duties.
Cody basically ran the show at practice, with help from Bodnar, said Braune.
Now Braune’s work has taken him to Wilmington, and Atkins is stepping up to fill his spot.
Atkins said Bodnar may return as co-coach, but he expects he will lead practices like this past season.
Atkins is a 2005 graduate of West Stokes.
As a freshman, Atkins wrestled 28 matches at North Surry.
That was back before Eric Jessup took over as coach and built the school into a powerhouse, noted Atkins.
As a sophomore, Atkins moved to West Stokes and went 50-4. He eventually won a state title as a Wildcat.
Four years ago, Atkins began working with Jamie Pack’s wrestling club. He had a chance to work on a regular basis with the five wrestlers who are going to nationals in a couple of weeks.
Jacob was just a sixth-grader back then, he pointed out.
More than a year ago, Atkins took a job with the city of Mount Airy, working third shift with the water treatment facility. That gave him a chance to work with the high school boys in the evenings before starting his shift.
Atkins began helping with the Bears’ team in January 2013. Then over the summer, Braune asked Atkins if he would like to take a bigger role with the team.
The guys all love Cody, said Benita Wilson. He knows his stuff, but he also seems to be good for them mentally, and the mental side is a big part of wrestling.
Atkins admits he really gets into the matches and has lost his voice on occasion from yelling instructions from the side.
With the Bears returning most of their starting lineup, Atkins should have a powerful team next year.