For the Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team, this weekend's Thanksgiving Classic wasn't so much about winning the team's showcase tournament.
Instead, Juneau's focus in the Thanksgiving Classic was starting the healing process after the death a week earlier of teammate Brandon Pilot. Pilot, a sophomore 152-pounder, was killed in an auto accident early the morning of Nov. 18 near Eaglecrest Ski Area.
There were a few tears shed and a couple of quiet moments of contemplation taken by Juneau wrestlers during Friday's and Saturday's action, but the Crimson Bears began their healing with a dominating victory in their tournament.
Juneau sent 10 wrestlers to the finals, with six winning titles, en route to scoring 197 points. Ketchikan took second place with 155.5 points, and only seven finalists and four champions. Wrangell finished third with 101 points, followed by Hoonah with 59 points and Klawock with 40. Kotzebue and Bethel tied for sixth place with 39 points each, followed by Mount Edgecumbe in eighth with 29, Angoon in ninth with 11 points and both Pelican and Skagway in 10th place with no score.
"It's definitely helping," said Juneau junior Vern Perry, who won the 103-pound title with an 8-4 decision over Ketchikan's Matt Jones. "I don't think he (Pilot) would have wanted to us to just stop and end things. This pushes us harder. We let all our emotions out. We wanted to do our best for him."
Even though he's no longer around, Pilot's presence was evident throughout the tournament.
The Juneau wrestlers all honored their fallen teammate by writing "BP 152#" on their right shoulders. And Brandon's parents, Art and Linda Pilot, spent much of the tournament in the bleachers. The Pilots received a standing ovation from the crowd when they were introduced by Juneau coach Bob Mahon as having "been our biggest supporters this week."
"Brandon Pilot was a good athlete who was on his way to being a great athlete," Mahon told the crowd before the tournament's championship finals began Saturday night. "He'll be a part of us forever. When you lose someone like Brandon, the loss is felt not just by us but by all of Southeast."
After winning his title, Perry ran into the stands to hug Pilot's parents. Another Juneau wrestler, sophomore Jestin Hulegaard, pointed skyward when he was presented with his bracket sheet poster following his 8-2 decision over Wrangell's Harry Churchill in the 130-pound championship final.
"It was hard, we only practiced twice this week," Hulegaard said. "It helps. Everything helps. It was hard losing someone like Brandon. But he's always going to be there for us."
Anthony Manacio III said he was thinking of Pilot when he won his weight class title -- at 125 pounds with a 13-2 major decision over Jack Malutin of Mount Edgecumbe. Manacio said two weeks ago he'd been sick during Juneau's trip north to the Anchorage Chrisitian Schools Invitational when Pilot came up to him. Manacio told Pilot he was sick and wouldn't be able to wrestle his third-fourth place match, so Pilot went out and won his fifth-place match and told Manacio the victory was for him.
"We did it for him, ourselves and our team," Manacio said of Juneau's performance this weekend. "I owed him one. I never really show my feelings, but in my head I knew I owed him one. This was the first match since the accident where I was really focussed on what I was doing. It actually did help us. A lot of kids were making finals who've never made them before. Everyone stepped up and now everyone knows what he can do."
Manacio's younger brother, Anthony Manacio IV, claimed the title at 112 pounds with an 11-6 decision over Klawock's Chris Schnur. At 119 pounds, Juneau's Patrick Carrillo claimed a 9-6 decision over teammate Willy Dodd in an all-Crimson Bears final, which helped give Juneau the championships of the first five weight classes.
"This makes us stronger," Carrillo said. "We're getting better. We responded very well. We only had two practices, so we really had to push ourselves this weekend."
The other Juneau wrestler to win a title was Jerrod Harvey, who claimed a 6-1 decision over Wrangell's Reme Privett at heavyweight. Harvey, who sometimes wrestles at 215 but moved up a weight class for the tournament, also pinned the 215-pound champion, Matt Nore of Wrangell, in an exhibition match before the consolation finals were held.
"I think that will help me in the state's seeding," Harvey said of his dual victories. "It was really tough at the beginning of the week. But now I think we're one step closer to being first at state. We did really good this week. This was a good way for us to take steps to get away from the emotional part of this week."
The other Juneau wrestlers to reach the finals were Steven Perry (no relationship to Vern), who lost to Ketchikan's Steven Haseltine by a technical fall at 140 pounds; Jon Moore, who dropped a 5-3 decision to Ketchikan's Nick Conley at 189 pounds; and Robert Vicario, who lost a 13-4 major decision to Nore at 215.
"He had a strong upper body," Vicario said of Nore. "I tried to roll him a couple of times, but it didn't work. We did real good this week."
The other champions this weekend were Hoonah's Brian Botts, who claimed a 5-3 overtime decision over Ketchikan's Joey Fama at 135 pounds; Ketchikan's Travis Johnson, who won a 7-3 decision over teammate Matt Haseltine at 140 pounds; Kotzebue's John Rae, who pinned Klawock's Craig Wallace at 152 pounds; Ketchikan's Geoff Nordlund, who pinned Hoonah's Kenny Bartlett at 160 pounds; and by Bethel's Mick Davis, who won a 13-1 major decision over Wrangell's Alec Pempek at 171 pounds.
"This was a big step forward in getting over something like this," Mahon said. "Anything like that will make you realize nothing is certain and now the kids realize they can pull together the way they did. This is probably the hardest thing a team will ever have to go through, and I think our biggest motivation came when the Pilot family walked into the gym. When the kids saw that they could put their loss aside to come here, I think it made them all realize they could dig a little deeper themselves."
Mahon said he plans to take a full squad to Mount Edgecumbe for a tournament Dec. 1-2, then Juneau will gear up for the Region V championships Dec. 8-9 in Ketchikan. The top six wrestlers in each weight class at the region meet will advance to the fall season state wrestling meet Dec. 15-16 in Kenai.
Results from the Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team's Thanksgiving Classic tournament held Nov. 24-25 at Juneau-Douglas High School.
Final team scores -- 1. Juneau-Douglas, 197; 2. Ketchikan, 155.5; 3. Wrangell, 101; 4. Hoonah, 57; 5. Klawock, 40; 6. tie, Bethel, 39; 6. tie, Kotzebue, 39; 8. Mount Edgecumbe, 29; 9. Angoon, 11; 10. tie, Pelican, 0; 10. tie, Skagway, 0.
103 pounds -- Vern Perry (JD) dec. Matt Jones (Ket), 8-4. 112 -- Anthony Manacio IV (JD) dec. Chris Schnur (Kla), 11-6. 119 -- Patrick Carrillo (JD) dec. Willy Dodd (JD), 9-6. 125 -- Anthony Manacio III (JD) maj. dec. Jack Malutin (ME), 13-2. 130 -- Jestin Hulegaard (JD) dec. Harry Churchill (Wra), 8-2. 135 -- Brian Botts (Hoo) dec. Joey Fama (Ket), 5-3 OT. 140 -- Travis Johnson (Ket) dec. Matt Haseltine (Ket), 7-3. 145 -- Steven Haseltine (Ket) tech. fall Steve Perry (JD), 21-5 (5:52). 152 -- John Rae (Kotz) pin. Craig Wallace (Kla), 3:50. 160 -- Geoff Nordlund (Ket) pin. Kenny Bartlett (Hoo), 1:17. 171 -- Mick Davis (Bet) maj. dec. Alec Pempek (Wra), 13-1. 189 -- Nick Conley (Ket) dec. Jonathan Moore (JD), 5-3. 215 -- Matt Nore (Wra) maj. dec. Robert Vicario (JD), 13-4. 275 -- Jerrod Harvey (JD) dec. Reme Privett (Wra), 6-1.
(third-fourth place matches)
103 pounds -- Mark Peterman (Wra) dec. David Mann (Ket), 7-4. 112 -- Jesse Boyd (Ket) pin. Cameron Mitchell (JD), third period. 119 -- Mark Anglin (Ket) dec. Gabe Baylous (Hoo), 6-2. 125 -- Zane Johnson (Ket) pin. Anthony Manacio (V), 2:24. 130 -- David Liliedahl (JD) dec. Jake Yandell (Hoo), 6-0. 135 -- Jack Carney (ME) takes third place, no match. 140 -- Reid Dihle (JD) dec. Garrett Anelon (ME), 6-4 OT. 145 -- David Wilson (Wra) pin. Peter Lie (Kotz), 1:59. 152 -- Pat O'Brien (Bet) dec. Jimmy Refuerzo (Hoo), 8-7. 160 -- Greg Brown (JD) pin. Peter Muse (JD), 1:59. 171 -- Brian Thatcher (JD) maj. dec. Ozelle Jamestown (Ang), 12-4. 189 -- Brian McCloskey (Wra) dec. Curtis Demmert (Kla), 8-5. 215 -- Justin Rasmussen (JD) pin. Doug Robbins (Wra), second period. 275 -- Sven Westergard (Ket) dec. Steve Frank (Ang), 6-0.