comes a time when every wrestler realizes his competitive career is
over. Exactly when that moment occurs varies for every wrestler. For
some, that realization takes place in advance of their last match;
those wrestlers walk out onto the mat knowing it ends after that match.
Others get caught up in the race for the top and don't really want
to think about what may be their last match. It is difficult to put
an end to something to which you have given so much of yourself. However,
sooner or later, every wrestler grasps the reality that he has wrestled
his last match, and for many, it happened at state this year.
Kevin Tso is a senior at Greyhills Academy
High School in Tuba City. He has wrestled all four years at Greyhills.
In February, Tso wrestled at the Arizona State Wrestling Tournament
in the Division IV 125 pound weight class. But how did he get there?
A 17-year-old Navajo kid, wrestling among the state's best. Tso
is no stranger to the wrestling mat; he has wrestled at the state
tournament his sophomore and junior year and also placed at multiple
high school and national tournaments. Tso has wrestled at National
tournaments in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana. Tso compiled
a 38-12 record his sophomore year and last year he went 41-9. But
this year was different, Tso wanted to end his high school wrestling
career with a State Championship.
"I knew where it was going to go
and what it was going to take, but I had that dream, of being champion,"
said Tso, Inspired to wrestle by his older brother, Kyle, Kevin
has been coached and mentored by what he calls "the best team
and support I could have." After his brother graduated Tso
was taken under the arm of Garrett Manygoats.
Manygoats was a state runner up his junior
year in 2007 at 130 pounds and took third his senior year at 135
in 2008. Manygoats, along with his twin brother, Garth, worked with
Tso his sophomore year, wrestling in the 103 pound weight class.
Tso was the Champion at Pat Kenny, fourth at the Tim Van Horn Tournament
in Payson, fourth at Mogollon in Heber, second at regions and placed
third at state in the 103-pound weight class winning in overtime
to claim the bronze. Together with Garrett and Garth Manygoats,
they molded the wrestler you see today.
"I've got to give those guys a lot
credit for my success in wrestling," Tso said.
During Tso's junior year he jumped two
weight classes and wrestled in the 119-pound weight division. He
took third at the Pat Kennedy Invitational, crowned the champion
at the Joseph City Tournament, fourth at the Mogollon Invitational,
and placed second at regions dropping a razor close decision.
At the state tournament, Tso's only lose
came from the eventual Champion, Robert Sevgovia, of San Manuel,
where he dropped a decision. Tso managed to get on the podium placing
As Tso 's senior year was approaching
he knew he would have one more shot at state. Over the summer he
participated in Camp Verde's Weekend Wars all summer where wrestlers
from all over the state wrestled. Some even attended from California,
Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada. He wrestled at the Terminator
World Championship in Prescott. He also went to the 2010 Reno World
Champion where Tso went 2-2. He lost the first round to Sammy Cano
of California but came back and beat two wrestlers from Oregon and
California. He lost to a wrestler from Washington.
Tso also wrestled in Butte, Mont. at the
AAU Grand Nationals. He took first in all three tournaments in Greco
Roman, Freestyle, and Folk-style in the 119-pound weight class division,
beating wrestlers from Montana, California, New Mexico, Washington,
At the start of he his senior year Tso
had one goal is mind, State. The first tournament would be the Pat
Kenny Tournament in Holbrook. Tso lost to both Round Valley and
Mountain Ridge by close decisions but in his third place match he
beat a State Champion from Joseph City earning him third.
At the Joseph City Tournament, Tso lost
to Chino Valley in the semi-finals by a decision. In his third place
match Tso found himself down 7-0 to a wrestler from Mohave going
into the third period. He knew he would have to do something substantial
in order to win. Tso did exactly that, ankle picking his opponent
and putting him right on his back and pinning him with seconds left.
Going into the State Tournament Tso had
his eyes set on meeting Smiley Beecroft of Mogollon, a wrestler
Tso lost to the previous week by dropping a 5-2 decision in their
Championship bout. Tso was upsetted by Daniel Dodge of Camp Verde,
a wrestler whom Tso had beaten three times during the season. Tso
lost an 8-3 decision. After losing that match Tso stormed the mat
broken and devastated. He would be found disappointed with his head
down crying in the corridor of the arena.
"I remember just crying, and thinking
I let everyone down. I thought I was done and didn't want to continue.
I mean everything I've gone through and all the sacrifices I made
just to win that that state champion was taken away from me in six
minutes," said Tso.
As Tso was at his weakest point his former
coach, Chris Curley, saw Tso's dream of being a State Champion slip
through his hands.
"I remember as I cried he came up
to me and said 'Hey, it doesn't matter if you get knock downed,
it's whether you get back up,'" said Tso.
Tso also remembers as everyone left him
crying in the corridor only one person stood by him, Andrea Harvey,
athletic trainer for Greyhills.
"I remember thinking to myself and
wondering if I was going to sit here and quit and walk out of here
with nothing, or get the next best thing and get that third place
medal," said Tso. "She's watched me wrestled since I was
freshman. She's helped me through a lot. I remember saying I was
done and I can't do this anymore. She said to me, 'It doesn't matter
what everyone thinks. You got to go back out there.'"
Tso had to climb a long to get back into
the medal rounds.
"I remember praying before every
match after my lost and just praying to God and saying, 'Please
don't let this be my last match,'" he said.
Tso went on to beat Red Mesa, Thatcher
and St. Johns to meet Daniel Dogde again in the consolation semi-final.
Tso, beat the wrestler who had beaten him the previous day decisively
"I wanted to leave no doubt that
I was the better wrestler in that match," said Tso.
Tso met a Moreceni wrestler in his third
place match. This would be the final match of his wrestling career.
"I knew walking onto that mat that
it ends after this match. Staring across at my opponent, I knew
this was it. All the years I've put in came down to this. I didn't
want to look back at my last match years from now knowing that I
lost," said Tso.
Tso put everything he had left into his
last match. Tso won the match by a close decision, 6-3. Tso outscored
his last five opponents 45- 13.
"Looking through the stands and in
the corridors of the arena at the state championships each year,
you will see wrestlers whose careers are over. Sometimes you'll
see a mother, sister, wrestlerette or girlfriend crying while holding
him; a father looking out onto the arena floor, silently thinking
about what could have been. Behind every wrestler are many others
who quietly, deep within themselves, wrestle right along side him.
They feel the joy of victory and the pain of defeat as if it was
their own. When his career ends, much of the anguish they feel is
because it is also the end of something that has meant very much
to them," Tso said.
"It is a long, difficult road from
those very first matches, marked by many defeats, to the state championships.
Somewhere in between, childhood ends. Games are no longer important
and boys become men. Fortunate parents witness this beautiful transition.
It is not without a great deal of pain and sacrifice for the wrestlers
and families alike. For most wrestlers, qualifying for the Arizona
State Championships represents the single greatest achievement in
their young lives. For all wrestlers, qualifying represents an experience
they will never forget," he said.
In all, 896 wrestlers entered at this
year's state tournament with the same dream of winning that final
match. A dream, however, 156 realized. Tso never won a state championship,
but he's very proud of what he has accomplished. Tso finished his
senior year with a 45-7 record and his high school wrestling career
with over 150 wins and being Greyhill's first wrestler to place
three times at state.
"I hope people will remember me,"
he said. "The reality is, there are no losers in the sport
of wrestling; there are only those who did not wrestle. Every great
wrestler in this sport has that one last good fight in them."
Tso graduates as class valedictorian at
1 p.m. Friday at Greyhills Academy High School.
"At the top of his class, I feel
that this is a remarkable story that I was able to be a part of
as his coach. I did not officially coach the Knights team this year
but kept in close contact all the way through into the state finals,"
said Curley. "Kevin was selected as the Navajo Times Outstanding
Wrestler of the year in the middle weight class. Greyhills Academy
High School also recently selected him as the Athlete of the Year
and Scholar Athlete of the Year for 2010-11."
"When I first met Kevin, he was as
raw but with lots of potential. Seeing him in practice, us coaches
look at what strengths an individual could find as their primary
move as their signature. Kevin was known to the prep-wrestling world
for the ankle pick. Wrestlers knew it was coming but it was also
hard to defend from someone who found perfection in executing the
ankle pick. With hard work, dedication and keeping up with academics,
Kevin began to improve his offensive and defensive skills making
him one of the top wrestlers in the state," Curley said.
"After seeing him lose the first
match in the 2011 state championships was a blow that was unexpected
but I told Kevin, that all is not lost in winning with honor and
respect. That life will knock you down but to get back to your feet
to prove what makes the person inside. Kevin did that we consecutive
wins all the way back to getting third place. As a coach, it proved
that it was his heart and willingness to keep going, was what win
over the respect of the wrestling world," he said.
(Editor's note: Kevin Tso contributed