Saturday night was special at Xcel Energy Center. The final matches of the high school wrestling season, in which individual state champions are crowned, are always held in a joyous, raucous setting, with gold medals being awarded in front of cheering crowds.
High school wrestling careers sometimes end quietly, too.
Ashton Clark, a senior from Park Rapids, was hoping to go out on top. He placed second in Class 2A as a sophomore and junior and came to the 2019 state tournament in the 120-pound class with dreams of a first-place finish. That dream was dashed when he lost an opening-round match on Friday morning in the most dramatic way possible.
As the was match winding down, Clark held a 4-0 lead over Spencer Ruedy of Mankato East. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Ruedy scored a reversal and a three-point near fall to win the match 5-4. Clark, in his fifth trip to state, was done.
But the story, the story that really matters, the story that says so much about the young man, is how he made it back to state when it seemed impossible.
Ashton (pictured in the top position in this photo) suffered a broken leg on Jan. 5 while wrestling in the championship match at a tournament in Ogilvie. He won that match, despite a broken bone just above the ankle. Doctors told him his wrestling season was over.
He wasn’t hearing it.
“I didn’t really want to think about it,” he said. “I tried to think about other things.”
Things like rehabbing his injury. Things like staying in condition. Things like doing everything in his power to be ready for the Section 8 individual section tournament.
He had a couple of important people in his corner. Matt Clark is the Park Rapids wrestling coach and Angel Clark is the school’s athletic trainer. They also are Ashton’s parents.
“If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have been very, very surprised (to see Ashton at state),” said Matt. “But knowing everything he did, there are not many kids who would do that or could do that. He’s a strong young kid.”
His leg and foot were never put in a cast; Ashton had a walking boot and crutches at first. He ditched the crutches after a while and was able to remove the boot at times. Angel helped her son by first using the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. “We talked about how we were going to do everything perfectly,” she said. “I’ve looked at fractures like this and they don’t come back like that.”
Three weeks after the injury, a doctor looked at a fresh X-ray and was astounded. “He said, ‘Oh my God. Wow, this looks super good,’ ” Angel recalled. “We were like, ‘Oh thank God.’ Then he turned to Ashton and said, ‘What kind of chance do you have to make it to state?’ We said, ‘Well, this would be his fifth time.’ ”
The Clarks asked a custodian at the school to remove the left pedal from a stationary bike so Ashton could ride it for conditioning. He did work in the swimming pool.
“That’s discipline,” Angel said. “A part of me thinks that Ashton was coming back and he knew it. He’s so, so disciplined.”
The news kept getting better as the section tournament got closer.
“The first time we went to the doctor he said there wasn’t much of a chance,” Ashton said. “The second time he said we were a week or two ahead of schedule, and to keep doing what we were doing. The third time he said it was going to be ready.”
He finished his high school wrestling career with a record of 161-22. What matters much more than how it ended is what he accomplished along the way, and how he finished. With perseverance, dedication and commitment.
--Simley senior Daniel Kerkvliet won the Class 2A state title at heavyweight Saturday night, becoming the 20th wrestler in Minnesota history with four championships.
--Total attendance for the three-day state wrestling tournament was 50,199. The tournament record is 64,001, set in 2003. One year ago the total attendance was 51,705.
Wrestling State Champions
106/ Drayden Morton, Sibley East
113/ Charley Elwood, Medford
120/ Jeron Matson, Kenyon-Wanamingo
126/ Brett Willaby, Windom-Mountain Lake
132/ Jackson Hale, Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Southland
138/ Mark Buringa, St. Charles
145/ Kyle Cavanaugh, Caledonia/Houston
152/ Seth Brossard, Kenyon-Wanamingo
160/ Tyler Ryan, Kenyon-Wanamingo
170/ Tyson Meyer, Minnewaska
182/ Jaden Kindopp, Canby
195/ Michael Nelson, Dover-Eyota
220/ Dominik Vacura, Badger/Greenbush-Middle River
285/ Craig Orlando, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie
106/ Mason Gelhoff, Waseca
113/ Joey Thompson, Totino-Grace
120/ Chase DeBlaere, Simley
126/ Jake Svihel, Totino-Grace
132/ Ryan Sokol, Simley
138/ Tyler Shackle, Scott West
145/ Carlos Ruffo, Kasson-Mantorville
152/ Tim Stapleton, Waconia
160/ Bennett Berge, Kasson-Mantorville
170/ Isaiah Thompson, Detroit Lakes
182/ Patrick Kennedy, Kasson-Mantorville
195/ Ty Moser, Perham
220/ Danny Striggow, Orono
285/ Daniel Kerkvliet, Simley
106/ Pierson Manville, Shakopee
113/ Paxton Creese, Shakopee
120/ Derrick Cardinal, Forest Lake
126/ Reid Ballantyne, Stillwater
132/ Trayton Anderson, Northfield
138/ Sebas Swiggum, Apple Valley
145/ Cael Carlson, Willmar
152/ Willie Bastyr, Lakeville South
160/ Gabe Nagel, Little Falls
170/ Riley Habisch, Buffalo
182/ Zach Glazier, Albert Lea
195/ Calvin Sund, Prior Lake
220/ Ezayah Oropeza, Rosemount
285/ Bryce Benhart, Lakeville North
--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.