I knew of him when he was born. Son of a wrestler a few years older than me. I hoped he would be another wrestler in the Washington City Schools pipeline. I met him after his diaper days. I was taking shingles up a ladder when I first caught a glimpse. He was a spitting image of his daddy, playing in his grandparents’ front yard amongst the sounds of air hammers nailing my delivery to the angled wooden slope.
When he was picked up, I asked his mom when he was going to start wrestling. She gave me an odd look, and that pretty much summed up the conversation. Maybe she didn’t like wrestling.
After a quick construction career, I was able to be a substitute teacher at head start, and saw him daily. I understood the strange look. Slade has autism. Being in the wrestling world for three decades, I knew that wrestling would be his sport. It is an inclusion sport. One where brothers and sisters battle it out, but respect anyone else that wears the singlet.
I never had the opportunity to speak to his momma again, but somewhere in my gut, I knew that wrestling mat would be calling his name.
I have witnessed first-hand the excellence of the Court House Cobras. I have seen the coaches do great work. The wrestlers I had in my middle school program which came from the blue mats in the cafeteria always had a base knowledge of technique. There is one thing that separated the club from any I had been to, inclusion. The cast of characters varied from the inception.
When I moved away, I left a piece of me in Ohio. The cafeteria was where I coached my first Washington Middle School team. One of the kids from that team took over my job, and another is an assistant at the varsity level. That cafeteria is where I would physically break Steven Willis during the hot summer months, one-on-one. Steven’s Asperger’s never told him he was broken though, and he kept pushing forward, no matter what I would throw at him.
That cafeteria called out to the kids in Fayette County. It echoed throughout the town as a refuge for the underappreciated, the hard-nosed, the kids that needed to get a little more aggressive. It also called out to the kids that needed to be included in something, kids like Slade.
When I heard the news that Slade was wrestling, it brought me back to that moment when I first asked his mom. That odd look. That conversationless conversation. It took me back to that room. The old blue mats. The young warriors. It brought me back to Ohio.
It has been a pleasure watching him compete. Watching him be included. Watching him become a leader. Watching a group of young men and women rally around him to form Team Slade. Though I wasn’t a part of it, part of me was there wearing a puzzle piece ribbon. I’m just happy I was able to see the journey through pictures.
Congratulations Slade, Team Slade, and all the coaches around the country that see a wrestler in everyone, and to the parents, kids and coaches whom embrace inclusion. It looks like Slade is just one of the guys. He always was.
If you would like to help our student wrestler sponsorship program you can donate to: www.gofundme.com/support-IGWT. I will match any donations dollar for dollar up to $500.
By Truewrestlinginsider contributor Gary Kinzer