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HILLSVILLE –– It will soon be a sad day for Carroll County wrestling coach Jason Morris. In a few weeks, seven of his 11 wrestlers will take the mat for him the last time. The majority of these seven seniors have been together since sixth grade.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with these young men for the past four years—some of them six or seven years,” said Morris. “We have traveled all over the place, trained for countless hours and had competitions on some of the smallest and biggest stages of wrestling. Each one of these seniors has a special place in my heart, because they are a part of my immediate family and always will be.”
The seven seniors, Jordan Lamb, Jesse Pedrero, Andrew Naff, Blake Bowman, Kelly Yelton, Aaron Willard and Benny Bolen, have shared and bonded with each other for more than a third of their lives.
“Blake and I played on the rec. league football team together in sixth grade and I remember walking up to his locker after football season was over and asking what he was going to do since it was over,” Willard said. “He said that he was doing wrestling and that I should, too, so I did. After that, we just got all of the other guys into it and have been together ever since.”
“I am going to miss everything that we have done over the years,” said Pedrero, who is planning on going to Radford or JMU after graduation. “ The whole experience has been a great ride – going on all of the trips, talking about all of the issues that we face. The coaches (Morris and assistant coach Joe Shumate) have been good role models. They have made us all better men in wrestling and in life. They have taught us how to take responsibility for our actions. They have taught us how to suck up pain and keep on going and working through things no matter how many times you fall… you just have to get back up.”
Lamb, who is considering Tusculum College, said, “Wrestling has been a life-changing experience for me. I used to weigh 178 and was really out of shape, and since wrestling I have lost almost 40 pounds and am in really good shape. Wrestling has instilled a lot of self-discipline in me and I have a lot of sentimental feelings about the wrestling team.”
Naff, who has applied to Virginia Tech and Radford, but who eventually wants to end up at Berklee due to his interest in playing piano, said, “I will miss all of the off-season workouts and all of the bonding that we have done over these years.”
“Wrestling has had a really big impact on my life,” said Bowman, who is planning on continuing wrestling in college and pursuing a career as a doctor, at either the University of Virginia, Appalachian State University or Virginia Tech. “It has taught me a lot of life lessons. We have to go through so much hard stuff when training and competing that it shows us to appreciate the easy things more.”
“I would like to thank the wrestling program for all that they have done for me. They have really brought me out of my shell and made me a better person,” said Bolen, who plans on going to Wytheville Community College and then transferring to Virginia Tech to pursue a career in electrical engineering.
Yelton, who is going into the Army after graduation, and Willard, who plans to go to Wytheville Community College and then Radford to become an accountant, owe a debt of gratitude to the wrestling program on a really personal level.
“My mom met Aaron’s dad on a wrestling trip to Martinsville in 2009,” said Yelton. “They started dating and got married this past June, so now, instead of just feeling like we are brothers because of wrestling, we really are. They probably never would have met if it hadn’t been for wrestling.”
“These are the hardest working people I have ever had the chance to work with,” said Morris. “They have been very successful on the wrestling mat and in the classroom and they will continue to be in the future. I look forward to seeing them accomplish their goals at the end of this season. It has been a fantastic journey with these young men.”
CCHS will be competing in the Region IV wrestling tournament is this weekend at Riverview Elementary in Grundy. Wrestling starts at 2:00 p.m. on Friday and 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. The VHSL state tournament is set for February 18 and 19 at the Salem Civic Center. Wrestling starts at 10:00 a.m. on both days.