Thursday, March 1, 2012

Will The Buck Stop Here?

After having spent the better part of the past eight winters heavily engrossed in the high school wrestling world, following the battling Bozzomo brothers (first Joe and then Frank), as they pursued grappling glory, I have not watched a single minute of wrestling this season. Frank graduated from Middlesex High School in June and took with him not only his diploma but the last direct connection - and rooting interest - I had to the sport.

This is the final week of the high school wrestling season here in the State of Concrete Gardens. The youngsters who have advanced out of thirty-two Districts, which were whittled down to eight Regions, shall arrive in Atlantic City on Friday afternoon hoping to capture an individual state championship. The Missus and I made this trek three times - once to watch Joe compete and the past two years to watch Frank do the same. Not this year. Joe, in fact, shall be there. He is the Assistant Coach at Middlesex. Once again this year the Blue Jays advanced once of their wrestlers to Atlantic City. I do not know Juwan Proctor who shall compete in the 285 pound weight class. I do know if he does nothing other than heed the advice of his Assistant Coach, he should be just fine.

To me the most impressive thing about the State Championships in Atlantic City - other than the somewhat dizzying array of Varsity jackets one sees walking on the Boardwalk (including those from towns and/or schools I had never heard of before) - are the resumes of the young men in the competition. Some of them are simply jaw-dropping. This year one of the wrestlers competing in the 126-pound weight class is an 11th grader from South Plainfield named Anthony Ashnault. He has never lost a high-school match. He arrives in Atlantic City seeking to win his 3rd consecutive State title.

Although I have never seen him wrestle and would not know him if he was to knock on my office door as I write this and introduce himself to me, the grappler I am rooting for the hardest this weekend is Travis Bucknor of Piscataway High School.

Bucknor is competing in the 220-pound weight class. He is a senior at Piscataway. He qualified for the State Championships by winning the Region V title last weekend after having captured the District 19 title a week earlier. Unlike many of his fellow competitors, who have been wrestling year-round since they were little kids, Bucknor got something of a late start in the sport. How late? November.

This season is not only the best season (he has won twenty-eight of thirty-four matches) he has ever had as a high school wrestler, it is the only one. He played football in the fall at Piscataway and went out for wrestling because, "I was looking to finish my senior year playing a sport."

Bucknor intends to enlist in the United States Marine Corps after he graduates from high school in June. He certainly does not appear to be a young man who shies away from a challenge. He may have a daunting one this weekend as his draw in Atlantic City was deemed "tough" by those who know such things.

I know not how Bucknor shall fare in AC this weekend but I do love his attitude. Upon winning the Region V title last weekend, he discussed with the Star-Ledger what he had hoped to accomplish when he first took up wrestling way back when (a/k/a "120 days or so ago"), "I wanted to go the state tournament," he said. "Now that I'm going I want to see how far I can get."

Abraham Lincoln once said, "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing." I have a hunch that if Honest Abe was alive and well, he would have grabbed himself a seat on the Bucknor Bandwagon too.


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