As the 122-pound championship match started March 20 at the National Western Events Center in Denver, every wrestler on the Craig Bad Dogs youth wrestling program surrounded the mat.
TJ Shelton was one win away from completing a season-long goal.
The first period ended at 0-0. The second had the same result.
In the final period, Shelton attempted a switch, but got too high and bailed.
Standing, Shelton’s opponent, Tucker Leavitt of Idaho, went to toss him to the ground.
“I knew he didn’t have his hold very good,” Shelton said. “I knew I had a shot, at that point.”
Shelton, a Meeker Middle School eighth-grader, used his strength to escape the toss and put Leavitt on his back.
With five seconds left in the match, the referee slammed his hand to the mat to signal the pin.
“The whole time I was telling myself I have to pin this kid,” Shelton said. “When I heard the ref blow his whistle, I jumped up and looked at my dad, my coaches and my family, and just smiled at them.”
The victory capped a banner season for Shelton, as he was awarded the Triple Crown and the Golden Gear.
The Triple Crown required Shelton to win any two Rocky Mountain National events plus the RMN tournament in Denver.
The Golden Gear required first-place finishes at any three RMN events plus the RMN tournament in Denver.
“It felt great to win those awards,” Shelton said. “The (Triple Crown) was something I have wanted to win since I was little and I was able to do it.”
Bad Dogs wrestler Deven Mosman was the first to accomplish the Triple Crown last season.
One week earlier, Shelton wrestled in the Terminator World Championships in Prescott, Ariz.
Earlier in the season, Shelton had to choose three RMN tournaments in three different states.
If he was successful in all three tournaments, he would be awarded the Tri-State belt.
Shelton had already taken first place in Florida and Utah.
“I chose Arizona as my third state because it was a chance to see my cousins who live there,” Shelton said. “Plus, it was another great tournament and a chance to get more matches.”
Shelton’s 122-pound weight class had only three wrestlers, including himself, in the bracket.
The stipulation set forth by the RMN required Shelton to win three matches in each state.
To fulfill the requirement, Shelton also wrestled in the 146-pound weight class.
Shelton won both brackets and the Tri-State belt.
“The Tri-State belt was something I was working toward most of this season,” Shelton said. “When we started nine months ago, I seemed far from it, but as I started working, I kept telling myself I could do it.”
Shelton said without the help of his coaches he would not have gotten to this point.
One coach, Darin White, helped him even more, he said.
“Darin pushed me harder and harder every time I wrestled,” Shelton said. “He helped me in about every aspect of wrestling.”
White said he knew Shelton could accomplish his goals, but it would be tough.
“One of the kids TJ wrestled in Denver was a guy who won his weight class earlier in the season,” he said. “In the finals match, I knew he had a great shot and when his opponent botched his throw, I told him to fall on him.”
Shelton said his biggest weapon against his opponents was his conditioning.
White said conditioning is something he and the other coaches work toward all season.
“Us coaches push the kids a lot and we have them run a lot of laps,” he said. “They work hard and it shows in the third period minutes when they are outworking their opponents.”
Heading into the last two tournaments, Shelton was also working toward the world championship belt, something that has only been done by two wrestlers in RMN history.
However, because Shelton didn’t win three matches in one weight class at the Terminator World Championships, he was not eligible.
“In our eyes he won the world championship belt,” White said. “But, he won the other three awards, and that is something special.”
As Shelton prepares to wrap up his eighth-grade year at Meeker, he will move onto high school wrestling next year.
Shelton said he hopes to continue his success at the next level.
“My next goal is win four state titles in high school,” he said.
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