At 12 years old, TJ Shelton will head into March with sights set on accomplishing numerous wrestling achievements awarded to few wrestlers his age.
Having already won three Rocky Mountain National tournaments this year, Shelton will look to finish his season with the Craig Bad Dogs youth wrestling program by winning in Arizona on March 12 and in the Rocky Mountain Nationals on March 20 in Denver.
Doing so would bring four distinct awards to Shelton and the Bad Dogs — the Triple Crown, the Tri-State belt, the Golden Gear and the World Championship belt.
For Shelton, the Triple Crown is first and foremost on his list.
“The Triple Crown is a pretty big deal because not many wrestlers can get it,” he said. “I was horrible when I first started and got my butt kicked by everyone, but I have really improved with the Bad Dogs.”
Shelton, who lives in Meeker, said he started wrestling when he was 5 and started with the Bad Dogs at age 7.
His choice to come to Craig to wrestle was for personal gain, Shelton said.
“I felt the Bad Dogs were more competitive than what we had in Meeker,” he said. “I wrestle for Meeker’s middle school team, but their season isn’t that long and they have a pee-wee team, but they only go for about a month.”
The Triple Crown is awarded to wrestlers who win any two RMN events plus the RMN tournament in Denver.
Only one Craig wrestler has accomplished this feat — Deven Mosman last year.
Shelton can place lower than first in Arizona and still be eligible for the Triple Crown.
Looking to Mosman as inspiration, Shelton, who wrestles in the 122-pound weight class, said his teammate has helped him get to this point.
“Deven always beat me in practice, but this year, I have started beating him,” Shelton said. “It felt great to finally get to that point.
“Last year, I was sloppy with my moves, but (Deven) has helped me work on them.”
Shelton won the Games of Rome in Florida, the Monster Mash in Denver and Jacob’s Challenge in Utah already this year.
If Shelton places first place in Arizona, he would earn the Tri-State belt, awarded to wrestlers who win an RMN tournament in three separate states.
A win in Denver is not required for the Tri-State belt.
A wrestler who finishes first in any three RMN events plus the RMN tournament in Denver would win the Golden Gear.
The World Championship Belt, won by only two wrestlers in the RMN’s existence, is awarded to wrestlers who win any four RMN events and the RMN tournament in Denver.
The World Championship belt is the only award that requires victories in both the Arizona and Denver tournaments.
With about two weeks left to practice, Shelton said there are areas of his technique he would like to work on.
“I have improved on shots, but I still think I need more work,” he said. “I also need to work on not tying up and on my sit outs.”
Shelton said the hardest part about wrestling in national tournaments is the mental aspect.
“When you see bigger kids, you get scared and think they are better and that can cause you to lose,” he said. “Starting young, though, I think you can work around that because you have more time to perfect your moves.”
Darin White, a Bad Dogs coach, said Shelton’s hard work has brought on opportunity.
“TJ comes down here from Meeker two times a week and he puts forth the effort and it shows,” White said. “We aren’t always sure he gets what we teach him, but on the mat, he implements it and we know.”
With an opportunity to accomplish so many prestigious goals, White said Shelton has attracted the attention of his younger teammates.
“With a great attitude and his success on the mat, 40 plus kids look up to TJ,” he said. “They want to watch him and see what he does on the mat so they can mimic his success.
“TJ is a good kid and I am not sure he fully understands what this opportunity means.”
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