Columbus East senior wrestler Mitch Gilbert has been making his mom, Molly Humes, cry a lot these days. That’s a good thing.
“When he wins, I cry,” Humes said.
Gilbert won sectional and regional championships at 132 pounds this season, and he now advances to the Evansville Reitz Semistate tournament Saturday at the Ford Center.
“I’m satisfied with what I’ve done,” said Gilbert, who beat Jennings County’s Ethan Herrin, 11-2, to claim the regional title Saturday at Jeffersonville High School. “But I really want to make it to state.”
He’s got a tough road, but his entire high school career has been one of steady improvement.
Gilbert began wrestling in sixth grade. “I was really short,” he said. “My dad (Michael Gilbert) suggested that I try it out. I always had tried different sports, but I liked the individualness of it.”
“When he first started wrestling, he wasn’t the biggest kid,” Humes said. “He had played PAL football and he thought wrestling would help his football skills. He tried wrestling and he just loved it and thrived in it.”
Gilbert discovered that size wasn’t so important, but knowledge was. “I lost my first couple of matches, but the coaches told me what I needed to work on. There were a lot of guys who knew more than me, and they would go hard on me. But in seventh and eighth grades, I only lost two matches. I won Tri-County both years.”
All that success didn’t matter much when he got into ninth grade at Columbus East.
“I lost a lot more and practices got a lot harder,” he said. “My first tournament, I lost four matches in a row. I lost more than I did in my entire middle school career.
“But I was determined to keep practicing and to learn more.”
Although taking his lumps was hard at times, Gilbert said, “I always knew I would stick with it.”
As a sophomore, Gilbert made it to the semi-state tournament at 112 pounds, and he finished second in both the sectional and regional tournaments. His junior season wasn’t quite as successful as he wrestled at 126, which he called “a stacked weight class.”
“I was bumped out in the regionals and it made me want to work harder,” he said. “And it drove me knowing it would be my last year.”
He came back at 132 pounds and got off to a fast start. “It was a lot different than my freshman year,” he said. “I won my first five matches and got five pins. I had put in the mind set that I could succeed.”
Gilbert has carved out a 34-8 record this season, capped by his regional title.
“Mitch was great all day long,” East coach Chris Cooper said. “He was a hammer.”
He will need to be a hammer again Saturday. Only the top four wrestlers in the 16-man brackets advance to the state championships. His first match is against Edgewood’s Dillon Deckard (29-9).
Whatever happens, Gilbert is glad he picked wrestling.
“It’s definitely taught me a lot about determination and hard work,” he said. “I think wrestling helps you build on character, determination and respect.”
All those qualities should help him as he moves to Vincennes University in the fall to study criminal justice.
His mom is sad that Vincennes doesn’t have a wrestling program.
“Wrestling helped him mature a lot,” she said. “I think it built his self-confidence. He learned that he is not always going to win, but what are you going to do with that? Are you going to wake up and go on? Life isn’t easy.
“He has persevered.”