Amid the massive crowds at the Pepsi Center in Denver last weekend for the state wrestling championships, TJ Shelton knocked down yet another impressive barrier.
Shelton, 14, won the 160-pound Class 2A state championship Saturday with an 8-2 decision over Austin McDonald, of Del Norte High School. The Meeker freshman completed a fantastic first season in high school in the best possible way.
“It was my dream, since I was like 8 years old, to do that,” Shelton said Tuesday.
It’s not uncommon for freshman to win state wrestling titles, but it typically happens in the smaller weight classes. At 160 pounds, Shelton was going up against some extremely accomplished and strong wrestlers. McDonald, for example, is a senior who had gone 41-2 on the season entering the final match.
Shelton was undeterred.
“I wanted to just go out there and have fun, not really be uptight about it,” he said. “The looser you wrestle, usually the better. I didn’t have pressure really, because my goal was to place at state and I already had fulfilled that. Once I got (to the title match) I wanted to take it, but I wouldn’t have been devastated.”
Shelton was at a loss for words to describe his emotions when time ran out in that final match.
“I don’t think I have words to explain the feelings I had,” he said. “It was amazing. I just thought to myself, ‘I did it.’ That’s what I said to myself over and over.”
Shelton’s success wasn’t out of the blue. He wrestled for the Bad Dogs youth team in Craig, for which he won countless events, including a Triple Crown, Golden Gear and Tri-State Belt at age 12, three prestigious awards in youth wrestling.
So when Shelton came to Meeker to start high school wrestling, coach JC Watt knew he could be successful immediately.
“He’s just a hard worker and he’s put in a lot of time in youth wrestling,” Watt said. “He has a lot of experience.”
Darin White, Shelton’s wrestling partner and one-on-one coach for his final two years with the Bad Dogs, was impressed with how quickly Shelton rose to the top.
“In those upper weight classes you’re battling all juniors and seniors more than likely,” White said. “For him to be able to (win state), it’s amazing. I knew he was going to be successful. He’s a heck of a worker. I figured he’d make it to state, but not do something like this.”
White was in attendance at the state meet all three days and described watching Shelton’s matches as if he were riding a roller coaster. Once Shelton took the lead in the championship, White had a good feeling.
“Once he got that lead, I kind of knew it had it,” White said. “It was pretty exciting. The best part for me was after the match. He’s excited and he’s running up the stairs. I yelled his name and he ran down the aisle and gave me a hug.”
Shelton added to his rapidly growing list of accomplishments by becoming the first freshman from Meeker to win a state title in wrestling. While all his championships are important to him, this most recent one was the realization of years of work.
“They’re all awesome,” Shelton said. “All of them are better than the other in ways. This one was definitely one I worked extremely hard for. I envisioned it; that’s all I thought about when I was practicing.”
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.