Grandsons of former wrestling greats shine for Olympians

Sophomore Ray Rooks was barely over 100 pounds when he stepped onto the wrestling mat for Columbus High School in 1961.

Wrestling was foreign to Columbus High School sports, and Rooks was competing in the city’s first wrestling match.

It didn’t take long for the new sport to pick up steam, as Columbus High produced three state runners-up in five years before closing down.

Sophomore Lester Perkinson helped revive the sport when he launched East’s wrestling program by joining the team in 1973. He wrestled his way into the state finals a year later and became East’s first state-runner up.

Who would have guessed the children of these two wrestling pioneers would get together and raise two of the best wrestlers in the state? Junior Graham Rooks and his brother Cayden, a sophomore, have taken the torch lit by their grandfathers and ran with it.

“They’re better than I ever was,” said their father, Ben Rooks, who also wrestled at North. “They know more than I ever knew. They’ve done it so much. I just try to enjoy watching them while I have it.”

Graham and Cayden have been wrestling since they were toddlers. Ben’s friend invited them over to spar with his son, and they have been wrestling ever since. By the time they were 6- and 7-years old, both brothers were traveling as far as Florida to compete in national tournaments. Graham said they never got tired of wrestling because it is what they love to do.

The Rooks brothers always have competed together from baseball to football and wrestling. They have been each other’s sparring partners since their wrestling careers began. Graham and Cayden keep each other polished in the classroom by studying together, also.

“They’re like best friends,” Ben said. “They hang out all the time. They do everything together, and most of their friends are lifelong friends that they’ve had through wrestling.”

After having successful seasons last year, Graham and Cayden are poised to go even further. Their eyes are on winning a state championship together.

Last year, Graham went 42-5 and finished fourth in the state at 120 pounds. Cayden went 37-2 and was ranked No. 1 at 106 for most of the year before losing an overtime match in the quarterfinals of the semistate, also known as the “ticket round.”

“It was pretty awesome,” said Graham, who also had finished third in the state at 106 as a freshman. “Everything we’ve worked for, for so long just finally paid off. Now we get to go out and do it again.”

Perkinson was the closest any East wrestler has gotten to a state title, falling just two points shy of the win. Now, decades later, he and Ray have a chance to witness their grandsons wrestle their way to a possible state championship.

East coach Chris Cooper said they have the passion for the task.

“They’re driven, dedicated, and they pay attention,” Cooper said. “They’re here every day, and they work hard. All of the things that I enjoy coaching wise, they’re bringing to the table. Every coach wants to have guys like that.”

Cayden and Graham both made an effort to focus on their weaknesses in technique and style during the offseason. Last year, Graham’s comfort level on the mat was to wrestle in space. He is known around the state for his low leg attack. Cooper said Graham still has those skills but has greatly improved on his close range technique to become a better-rounded wrestler.

According to Cooper, the main reason why Cayden lost last year’s semistate match was because he was not aggressive enough. Last year’s loss has fueled Cayden to work hard at taking control in hopes of generating more points this year.

The Olympians open their season tonight at home against Seymour. Cayden likely will be at 120 pounds, and Graham likely will be at 126.

“At the moment when Graham went to state, I just pushed it all aside,” Cayden said. “During the summer, it kept building up. Finally, when we got to wrestle over the summer, I just let it all go. That fire is still underneath me.”

Cooper travels with wrestlers like Cayden and Graham to find other competitors that are good enough to beat them. They competed in the two-day Super 32 national tournament in North Carolina, where they both went 3-2. Cooper said their losses are what will help drive them to their goal.

“There is always somebody out there who is as good or better than them,” Cooper said. “So that can drive them. I’m excited about this upcoming year for them.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Graham and Cayden Rooks” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Graham Rooks

School: Columbus East

Year: Junior

Weight class: 126

Favorite food: Steak

Favorite movie: “Deadpool”

Favorite wrestler: Cael Sanderson


Name: Cayden Rooks

School: Columbus East

Year: Sophomore

Weight class: 120

Favorite food: Steak

Favorite movie: “Deadpool”

Favorite wrestler: David Taylor