Soroco, Hayden wrestlers put rivalries aside to create Chad Jones Memorial Heart of the Warrior Award
SOROCO INVITE RESULTS
OAK CREEK — The Soroco Invite wasn’t the same without Hayden head wrestling coach Chad Jones this year, but his legacy couldn’t be forgotten.
As the only wrestling tournament in Routt County, the Soroco Invite hosted a plethora of the area’s best teams, including the Soroco Rams’ cross-county rival, the Hayden Tigers.
Jones, 39, passed away on Sept. 17 from tracheitis. He had been the Tigers’ head coach since 2012, but had also wrestled for Hayden while in high school. Tigers head coach Nick Planansky, a former assistant, has taken the reins in the program.
It’s been an emotional start to the season for the athletes, who grew up through Jones and Planansky’s wrestling program from the time they first took the mat to now as varsity athletes.
And, though the Rams rival the Tigers, there has always been a tight-knit bond among the two communities. Everybody knew Jones. And for those whom didn’t, or won’t in the coming years, there needed to be a way to remember the lesson he taught beyond the mat.
“We’re still all human and wrestlers at heart,” Soroco wrestling head coach Jay Whaley said. “Since this is the only home Routt County wrestling tournament, I talked to Nick and I said, ‘Hey, I want to do something to remember Chad.’”
Whaley implemented a Chad Jones Memorial Heart of the Warrior award, which gives coaches an opportunity to nominate an athlete who may or may not be the best wrestler, but exemplifies the most heart in the sport. It was Jones’ passion and fight that ultimately led to his success as a wrestler and a coach.
“Chad was an interesting fellow. Not everybody knows this, but when he was a freshman, he never won a single match,” Whaley said. “And by the time he graduated high school, he was a state champion. He exemplified tenacity and stuck with it.”
Planansky had been trying to figure out a plan of his own to honor Jones appropriately but didn’t have the resources. Whaley’s offer couldn’t be more perfect.
“We don’t have a home tournament here,” Planansky said. “We talked about having one and naming it the Chad Jones Memorial, but we just don’t have the facilities right now.
“It’s huge in this valley, between all the local schools we get together, and we’re always here for each other.”
At the conclusion of Saturday’s tournament, coaches voted Hayden sophomore Wyatt Murphy to receive the Heart of the Warrior award.
Murphy had lost to Soroco junior Gene Bracegirdle in the quarterfinals of last week’s tournament at Middle Park, but he avenged his loss this week, defeating Bracegirdle to take first place in the 132-pound weight class at the Soroco Invite.
An emotional silence swept over the gym before Jones’ daughter, Piper Jo, handed Murphy the award. It was a solemnly serendipitous moment, but the cheers would break the silence when Murphy received the award.
“Just the highlight of the whole day,” Whaley said. “It was really fitting that it went to a Hayden kid.”
Hayden will host a dual meet with fellow Northwest Colorado team Moffat County on Dec. 20.
The Tigers are still mourning, but they don’t show it. They’ve dedicated their entire season to Jones but they are also realizing the important legacy he leaves behind.
“It was good for all of them to see that,” Planansky said. “I was super happy it went to one of our kids. He put forth that effort that made it so he could deserve an award like that.”
A learn-by-doing methodology was on display Friday at the Loudy-Simpson Park pond as Moffat County High School science students learned quickly whether or not they had a future in engineering.