At the season-opening New Castle Duals, Jennings County senior wrestler Gabe Wilson had a scary moment.
“I was trying a move we call the double chicken wing,” Wilson said. “You try to bend your opponent’s arms in toward his chest, like chicken wings. Then you try to twist his head and his legs up in the air. It can look pretty funny.”
No one was laughing when the match ended because of a clash of heads.
“I had my opponent’s face down on the mat,” Wilson said. “My head bumped into his and I saw stars. We have a nurse at every event and when she checked me out, she shone a light into my eyes. I was alert enough to follow the light with my eyes. I probably could have wrestled more that day, but my coaches made me sit out as a precaution.”
Panthers coach Howard Jones acted quickly to fill the void left by Wilson’s injury.
“I went to five wrestlers individually,” Jones said. “I asked each of them if they would be willing to move up one class in weight. That left an opening at 145 so we put John Flynn into our lineup, who was not scheduled to wrestle that day. Six of them sacrificed for us to get a one-point win, which is very unusual.”
Wilson was grateful for the sacrifice of his teammates, the kind of sacrifice which led to the team winning the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament championship on Saturday. Wilson was third in the event and he is 27-4 on the season.
“I hated not being able to go out there (for the New Castle tournament match),” he said. “But it was neat to see the team pull together after my injury.”
Kyle Lewis was one of the wrestlers who moved up one weight class because of Wilson’s misfortune. Lewis and his teammates did it because they knew the team came first.
“We’ll all move up a weight class if it helps our team,” Lewis said. “We all have to work together. When someone is lollygagging while running laps in practice, we all have to run extra laps.”
This year’s team is the most experienced one in Panthers wrestling history, which includes 15 seniors. For the first time in his career, Jones let the team elect two additional captains to join Colton Castetter. The team elected Wilson and junior Ethan Herrin.
“I was overjoyed to be voted a captain,” Wilson said. “When I was a sophomore, I looked up to our captains, Iyan Bass and Gary Engelking. They’d thrown me around like a rag doll in practice when I was a freshman. Bass was a mentor to me and I always wanted to get a pin or a takedown on him during practice, but he was too strong. He outweighed me by about 50 pounds.”
Wilson paused and laughed, remembering how dominant Bass was.
“I got a shot in on him once,” Wilson said. “I was pretty proud of that.”
Two years ago, Bass wore Wilson’s Under Armour shirt when he competed in the state finals. Wilson hopes to compete in the state tournament this year in his 160-pound weight class, wearing his own shirt.
“I want to walk in the March of Champions at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse at the State Finals,” he said. “I made the semistate last year, so I think I can do it. I’m a bit of a brute on the mat with good technique. I’ve always been interested in both art and wrestling. Both of them always flow naturally for me.”