THEY all dress in the same colors these days, but that’s only because the Speaker brothers wear the royal blue of Columbus North High School in forming 21.5 percent of the Bull Dogs’ varsity wrestling lineup.
It’s a change from their early days as triplets, who were, thank goodness, sent home at different times from the hospital after being born prematurely. Fortunately for parents Mike and Kim, they liked different colors.
“Evan was blue, Will was red, and Cody was yellow,” said Kim, who noted that she just liked the way Evan looked in blue.
Mike tells the story a bit differently, saying the boys settled into their colors on their own personal preferences. Nevertheless, the Speaker parents didn’t have to attach those little, yellow sticky notes to their outfits.
On the wrestling mat, opponents tell them apart by weight class. All high school juniors, Evan is the team’s 106-pounder, Will competes at 113 pounds and Cody has grown into the 120-pound class.
They aren’t world beaters yet, but they all are solid, and it would be safe to say that North head coach Nick Skinner wouldn’t mind having Speakers in all 14 weight classes. They are a combined 61-44 this season.
Ask them which is the best wrestler, and Cody offers an explanation. “Evan is technical,” Cody said. “Will works really hard. I’m the strongest.”
Being the strongest doesn’t translate to the best record. Evan is 24-11, Cody is 22-14 and Will is 18-19. However, size does help at home when the brothers start a rumble.
“I’m bigger, but when they gang up on me, that doesn’t help,” Cody said.
While having triplet sons would seem to translate to holes in the sheetrock at home and broken coffee tables, Mike said that the boys have had to take out their aggressions outside because Kim rules the household with “an iron hand.”
“You don’t tear up her living room,” Mike said. “And I’m the one who instigates the wrestling matches anyway. There have been times when we have been thrown outside.”
Being thrown outside is OK, because the Speakers have had plenty of room growing up on a farmhouse near the Jackson County line that was owned by Mike’s grandfather.
In that environment, the brothers decided to follow in their father’s and grandfather’s footsteps (and aunts’ and uncles’) by showing pigs for 4-H.
“The boys have wrestled, but they are more well-known for showing livestock since they were 4,” Mike said. “They all wanted to do it together. We always said to them, ‘If you don’t like it, tell us.’”
It was the same with wrestling when the boys started to learn the moves from Carl Hildinger, now a North assistant coach, in second grade. “We all just started doing it,” Cody said. “Dad wrestled in high school, and I liked the sport because it was different.”
Mom would keep her eyes on the boys to make sure they weren’t simply following in the footsteps.
“As a parent, you want them to be involved in things, but you want to make sure it is something they care about,” she said. “I’ve had that conversation with them, especially the last few years, because my husband wrestled and showed pigs. I wanted to make sure they wanted to do it.
“But they do go their own ways, too. In Junior Leaders, they are on different committees, and they are involved with different friends. They know they don’t have to be doing the same things.”
The reality is that raising three sons the same age does take some planning.
“I would say the first three to four years were a blur to my wife and I,” Mike said. “I learned you need a community to raise children. You need your family and your church.”
Mike said he has learned another valuable lesson. “If you send one to do something, the work gets done. If you send two to do something, half the work gets done. If you send three boys, they’re not going to get anything done because they will be arguing and fighting.”
Kim also has advice to offer. “A schedule is very good for kids, and they like that,” she said. “It’s the only way you can survive. It makes life a lot better.
“The other thing would just be to enjoy it. We worried about money and how they would be academically, but all those things come and go.”
Now it’s the wrestling coach’s turn to deal with triplets.
“It’s hard at times when you demonstrate a move,” Skinner said. “I can say, ‘Look at Luke Teague, he does this move really well,’ and that’s OK. But if I say, ‘Look at your brother doing this,’ they might take it that they are doing something wrong.”
Generally, though, Skinner loves having the Speakers fill out the lower weights.
“They are hard workers,” Skinner said. “They do get feisty at times, but I think that is good.”
Teague, a junior 182-pounder, said the Speakers can be feisty.
“They fight all the time,” Teague said. “It’s like watching little kids fight. And if you get in a fight with one, all three would jump on you. But I would be laughing all the time.”
Mike knows his boys can get off track at times.
“The coaches learned their freshmen year that you couldn’t have the three of them wrestling each other,” Mike said. “They were just beating the crap out of each other. Eventually, Cody split off from them and Evan won a varsity spot.”
Evan won his spot by beating Will.
“My freshman year, Evan was in my weight class, and he beat me out for varsity,” Will said. “But I had my own experiences with the JV, and I made new friends. It was pretty hard and it gets me honked off, but I was happy for him. I was down on myself.”
As a sophomore, Will earned his own varsity spot, and North opponents started seeing triple.
Although the Speakers usually get North off to a fast start, as they did on Wednesday by winning their three matches against Columbus East, the boys admit that wrestling doesn’t come easy. “I’ve had some bad days,” Evan said. “But we push each other and I push myself.
“We tried other sports, but this was a sport I could excel at ... at my size. I wasn’t a good athlete. Through hard work, I got better. You get out of wrestling what you give. We’ve put a lot of time into this.”
Will said that wrestling was perfect for him. “I’m not really an athlete,” he said. “But this is something I can do that is fun. Once I got out there and was winning matches and improving, I thought, ‘I can do this in high school.’”
Hildinger said the Speakers could have been even better. “When they were little, they had a lot of talent,” Hildinger said. “They are great kids, but they are not the most aggressive kids.”
At home, that aggression comes through, but Kim stresses that the boys have been taught to treat people with respect away from home.
Mike admits, “We probably raised our boys too nice.”
From the stands, Mike and Kim watch their boys wrestle from different vantage points. “I definitely cheer for them, but a lot of times, I like taking pictures instead of looking through my fingers,” Kim said. “And I sit behind Mike because of his yelling.”
Mike admits that he squirms during matches.
“It’s been one of the most stressful things of my life,” he said. “I’m out there wrestling every match with them. It’s agonizing. When they win, it’s an endorphin rush. When they lose, I’m losing with them.”
The parents wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I really do like wrestling,” Kim said. “I think what wrestling does is give you a chance to shine individually and still be part of a team. I think wrestling has been helpful for them and the people they have come into contact with have been good role models.”
She does, however, have a little trouble with the fact that Evan has had trouble making the 106-pound class this season.
“We left Riley Hospital when they were 2, and they told us that premature children should be caught up by 2 years old. They put them through testing, and they wanted them to gain weight. They told me to put butter into their SpaghettiOs.”
Whether it was eating rich SpaghettiOs or raising pigs or wrestling, the boys appear to have turned out well.
After a meet at Seymour on Jan. 3, the boys were coming out of the gym, and they walked into an ice-covered parking lot as they went to the bus. “My mom (Jackie Speaker) was waiting at the curb and my father (Larry Speaker) had gone to get the car,” Mike said. “Cody came out of the gym in his shorts, and he saw his grandmother standing there, but her back was turned to him and he couldn’t tell who it was. I heard him say, “Ma’am, do you need me to walk you to the car?’ That kind of thing means more to me than anything.”
Being polite is great, but as high school juniors, the boys have other things on their mind. Asked which was the best looking, Will was quick to say, “I am.” Then Cody offered, “It’s me.”
Evan looked at his brothers. “I’ve had the most girlfriends,” he said.
The two others brothers looked back at him. “Yes, he has,” they said, laughing.