A wrestling tournament named after a young man known for being more than just a wrestler, showcased what the sport of wrestling is all about.
Boys and girls in hoodies and sweatshirts with messages true to themselves and their towns engaged in athletic competition during last weekend’s Brandon Pilot Invitational at Thunder Mountain High School.
One team’s sweatshirt read “There are 1440 minutes in a day, only 6 of those matter.” Another stated “Coulda shoulda woulda don’t cut it.”
“I think he would have enjoyed this,” Thunder Mountain High School assistant coach Gary Reid said. “I think Brandon would have enjoyed just seeing some of these semifinal matches. It would have been intense and he would have enjoyed it. Those are the best matches to watch. He would have been having a good time. He was a competitor at anything he did, whether doing sports or just hanging out and shooting hoops. If he didn’t have a guy in the match he would be rooting for a good match anyway.”
Reid was a Juneau-Douglas High School senior when Pilot was a Crimson Bears freshman in 2000. Pilot died in a rollover auto accident on Fish Creek Road on Nov. 18, 2000. A week later, the wrestling team went on with the scheduled Thanksgiving Classic wrestling meet, dedicating it to Pilot’s memory and won the team title. The following year the tournament was renamed in his honor.
“We wrestled club together and went to junior nationals,” Reid said. “We were pretty close and friends outside of wrestling too. We really lost him too early, because he was going to be a stud. He was an all around athlete from baseball to football and wrestling,” Reid said. “It was a bummer. I remember the phone call when I was at college. It was a rough time then.”
On the Yakutat team sweat top was a similar honor. The name Rex Newlun, No. 4 was featured. Up one sleeve and down the other was written, “Brotherhood is never forgotten.” On the back was Newlun’s own motto, “Everything happens for a reason. My life motto.” Newlun won the 189-pound bracket at last year’s Brandon Pilot.
On the front of the sweat tops were the dates 1994, Newlun’s birth, and 2011, his death. Rex Newlun died of hypothermia and drowning in a fishing accident on the Dangerous River near Yakutat on June 20.
“I, we, all look up to him,” Yakutat’s Jon Jensen said. “I remember a great wrestler and teammate and friend.”
On Mt. Edgecumbe’s sweat tops is written the statement “Turning Scrubs Into Champions Since 1965.” They are students from a compilation of villages from throughout Alaska. They know loss and they know survival.
“I saw him wrestle,” senior Melissa Fisher said of Newlun. “It was inspiring.”
Mt. Edgecumbe won the team title with 243 points and placed 15 wrestlers in contention for a top four finish including championships at 113 pounds by Fisher, 170 pounds by Michael Matthew, 182 pounds by Shyler Johnson, 220 pounds by Paul Johanson and at 285 pounds by Jaylin Prince.
Fisher won 10-4 over Ketchikan’s Keenan Spencer; Matthew won 11-3 over Wrangell’s Devon Miller; Johnson won 14-5 over Pelican’s Chris Bean; Johanson pinned Pelican’s Carl Phillips; and Prince pinned Ketchikan’s Cody Ring.
Ketchikan finished second with 143.5 points and individual championships by Isaac Lontz at 120 pounds and Kenny Hamilton at 152 pounds.
Lontz won 17-2 over Mt. Edgecumbe’s James Kelly and Hamilton won 5-2 over Hydaburg’s Tone Edenshaw.
Sitka finished third with 115.5 points and individual championships by 106 pounder Darin Davis, 126 pounder Jaren Sumauang, 132 pounder William Patrick and 160 pounder Mitchell Boord.
Davis won 16-0 over Yakutat’s Aedan Blazina; Sumauang pinned Mt. Edgecumbe’s Kory Joe; Patrick decisioned TMHS’ Thomas Riley 7-0; and Boord pinned Hoonah’s Nicholas Hughes.
Wrangell took the fourth team spot with 90 points and individual championships by Kurt Dingwall at 138 pounds over Haines’ Kenny Thomsen 4-0, and Tanner Thomassen at 145 pounds with a pin on Sitka’s Jacob Licari.
Yakutat finished fifth with 75.5 points and Pelican was sixth with 57.5 points. Pelican wrestlers included Trevor Hafendorfer (138 pounds, 3-2), Grady Sheldon (145 pounds, 1-2), Quintin Hafendorfer (160 pounds, 3-2), Chris Bean (182 pounds, 2-1) and Carl Phillips (220 pounds, 2-1).
Kake finished seventh with 57 points, Petersburg eighth with 56, Hoonah ninth with 52.5 and Hydaburg 10th at 51.5 points.
Hoonah wrestlers included Alan Fisher (126 pounds, 2-2), Hank Yandell (132 pounds, 1-2), John Smith (145 pounds, 1-2), Torsten Skaflestad (152 pounds, 2-2), Nicholas Hughes (160 pounds, 3-1), Jack Andrew (182 pounds, 0-2) and David Sanders (182 pounds, 3-1).
Thunder Mountain’s top finisher, and the top wrestling placer in the Juneau area, was Thomas Riley with a second place finish at the 132-pound division. Riley lost to Sitka’s Patrick 7-0 after a fan-favorite 15-14 win over Mt. Edgecumbe’s Daniel Villasenor in the semifinals.
“That was just a fantastic match,” Falcons’ head coach Chad Requa said. “You can see we have some rust but it is only our second tournament. We will be a lot stronger.”
The Falcons finished in 11th place with 45 team points. Riley had a record of 3-1 for the tournament. Teammate Jackson Pavitt also made a run at the championship, falling in the semifinals and finishing third with a pin over Metlakatla’s Chris Leask. Pavitt, a junior, had a record of 5-1 in the 160-pound weight class.
“Wrestling is just fun,” Pavitt said. “It is fun to take on the challenge and try to come out on top if you can beat someone else.”
Other Falcons included Liana Tseu going 0-2 at 126 pounds, Shawn Taylor going 3-2 at 138 pounds, Dylan Taylor going 2-2 at 138 pounds, Zack McCracken going 0-2 at 152 pounds, Brylie Yadoos going 0-2 at 160 pounds, Alex Glass going 0-2 at 160 pounds, Devin Womack going 2-2 at 170 pounds, Noe Hernandez going 0-2 at 170 pounds, Stephen Patz going 1-2 at 182 pounds and Matthew Abrams going 0-2 at 195 pounds.
Haines finished 12th with 42.5 points and Metlakatla finished 13th with 38.5 points. The Chiefs’ Demetrius Milne won the 195-pound championship with a 23-5 major decision over Kake’s Jaten Vantrease.
Juneau-Douglas’ top finisher was David Dumesnil with a 7-5 decision win for third place over Petersburg’s Kris Thorsteinson at 113 pounds. Dumesnil went 2-1 in the tournament.
The Crimson Bears finished in 14th with 21.5 points and included Kiko Iona going 0-2 at 138 pounds, Ben Hoch going 3-2 at 145 pounds, Malki Brown going 1-2 at 145 pounds, Jauger Tipps going 1-2 at 152 pounds, Ilkka Kettunen going 0-2 at 152 pounds, and Jerry Hudson going 0-2 at 182 pounds.
“We are doing OK,” JDHS head coach John Smith said. “We have had some very exciting matches, all of them. I see these kids improving rapidly. We have some good things going on.”
Skagway finished 15th with 16 points, Gustavus finished 16th with 12 and Klawock was 17th with six team points.
For Juneau’s tiny vacation neighbor Gustavus, the wrestling team represents a strong sense of community and support for their K-12 enrollment of roughly 45 kids.
“We just started our wrestling program officially last year,” head wrestling coach Rachel Parks said. “We were a club program in 2009 after many of our students showed an interest in the sport.”
That spring, three students attended the Juneau Tornado wrestling program and helped to motivate other students and parents to fund raise. That led to school support in purchasing a wrestling mat for the 2010 season. In 2010, four high school students participated in wrestling along with three junior high students.
Now in their second full season the Foxes have senior Zach Manchester at 170 pounds, junior Kenneth Marchbanks at 152 pounds and sophomore Marcus Tua’au at 195 pounds. The Brandon Pilot Invitational is the school’s second meet of the season. Gustavus also has a mixed-six volleyball program and, along with Kake and Angoon, are trying to secure a state berth for next year.
“We have high hopes four our program expansion,” said Parks, who is assisted by Justin Marchbanks and Phil Kesterson. “We have planned programs for junior high and younger ages along with motivated high school athletes.”
Manchester finished third in the tournament. His path included a win over TMHS’ Womack in the quarterfinals; a loss by pin in the semifinals to tournament runner-up Miller from Wrangell; a 6-4 decision over Petersburg’s Cody Seaman in the consolation semifinals followed by a 8-4 win over Ketchikan’s Davon Wake.
“It is just an exciting and fun sport,” Manchester said. “I would like to get better and make my teammates better and wrestle the best match I can.”
According to those who knew Brandon Pilot those were some of his traits as well.
JDHS assistant coach Jerry Carrillo also wrestled in the Juneau Tornado program.
“I was probably 11 or 12,” Carrillo said. “He was a freshman. I remember he always was working hard, yet he had time for me and other younger wrestlers.”
Added Reid, “He was just a good guy. He was a hard worker and a great guy to be around. We were Crimson Bears. He truly was a friend of mine. He would have been enjoying this and having fun.”