RANTOUL — Just like almost every sporting event in the country, the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation’s state tournament was canceled last month.
Three Rantoul athletes got their chance at a state title taken away.
All three athletes attend school at J.W. Eater Junior High.
Raul Martinez, who wrestles for the Fisher wrestling club is in sixth grade.
Andrew Owen and Brody Cuppernell are in seventh and eighth grades, respectively. Both athletes wrestle for the Saber wrestling club out of Champaign.
Rantoul Township High School wrestling head coach Ryan Gream is also the coach of the Fisher kids squad.
Gream said Martinez was wrestling better than ever going into the tournament.
“He ended up with around 28 wins. The last few weeks he was wrestling the best I had ever seen him,” Gream said. “He had a really good season, and this would of been his third season at state. He wanted to finish at the top of the podium this year because he got fourth last season.”
Ben Montez is the coach of the Saber wrestling team. Montez said both Cuppernell and Owen were ready to make a run in the tournament.
“Both of them were wrestling very well and had a chance to place for sure,” Montez said. “Both of them got second at the sectional. Their losses were to wrestlers that could have won state.”
Montez said he was disappointed for the kids because they put in a lot of work.
“Brody and Drew were there every week, and that is why they had such a good season. They both got a lot stronger through out the year,” Montez said.
Gream said it was heartbreaking for the athletes not to get a shot at the title.
“We were on our way when we found out. There was a lot of tears, and people were upset. It was out of our hands, but it looks like it was the right move,” Gream said. “I told the kids the season wasn’t for nothing. The kids got way better and learned a lot.”
Montez had a similar message for his athletes.
“This is not how you want anything to end. We all imagined something different. But wrestling teaches you determination, and wrestling isn’t a sport as much as it is discipline, and sometimes you win or lose, but you always looks to the next fight,” Montez said. “All we can do is control ourselves and continue to do the things we do well. When the opportunity presents itself we will be back.”
Gream said he was aware of the success other local teams also had, and he hopes to see them at RTHS.
“I have watched the kids wrestle for a long time, and the kids have really improved. I can’t wait to watch them continue to grow, and hopefully I get to be a part of it,” Gream said.
You can contact Ryan Birch at Rbirch@RantoulPress or on Twitter @RyanBirchRP