Callahan snares national gold
It was a day to remember for Baldwin youth wrestler Kevin Callahan. Callahan and Baldwin wrestlers Josiah Mason, Gabe Mason and Alan Callahan competed in the prestigious Kids National Folkstyle Wrestling Tournament this past weekend at the Topeka Expocenter, but it was Kevin Callahan who made the biggest splash at the event. Competing in the 12-under, 100-pound division, Callahan won the title to become Baldwin's first wrestler to ever win a championship at the state or national level.
Callahan won four matches in his 32-man bracket, none more exciting than his finals match, a 12-11 victory over a talented Iowa foe. Callahan had a bye in the opening round before pinning a South Dakota state champion in the second round. Then Callahan faced a Kansas state champion from Dodge City, a wrestler who had beaten Callahan two years ago at this very same tournament. But the Baldwin fifth-grader turned the tables this time, dominating his way to a 13-4 lead before the wrestler was disqualified for taking his third injury time-out. In the semi-finals, Callahan worked his way to a 4-0 first-period lead, before putting his Indiana opponent on his back with a wing and earning the fall and a berth in his first-ever finals at a state or national-level competition.
"I felt really happy. I was glad to get into the finals. I was just wrestling good and hit my moves right and hard," Callahan said.
Being in the finals had been nothing new to Callahan in local tournaments over the past few years. And he even won Sub-District and District titles this year. But he had never been able to earn his way into the finals of state or nationals. Callahan placed a respectable fifth at state this year, enough of an accomplishment to make any athlete very proud. Callahan was proud of placing, but it just wasn't quite enough for the determined young Baldwin grappler.
"I felt I could have done better at state but I was happy that I placed," Callahan said. "I am glad I placed at state but when I felt I could have done better then winning nationals made up for that."
With his confidence rolling, Callahan faced a wrestler in the finals who he and his coaches had been keeping an eye on. He was a wrestler from the Hawkeye Kids Wrestling Club and had placed second at the Iowa state tournament. He was dominating the top half of the bracket on his way to the finals.
"We had been watching his bracket and noticed this Iowa kid seemed to be the most talented," said Kit Harris, Baldwin High School wrestling coach who helped coach Callahan along with father, Dennis, and club coach, Brian Mason. "He had some tremendous technique and was very physical and quick. In my mind, I was thinking whoever wanted to win the bracket would have to go through this Iowa kid."
Callahan scored an early takedown with a move he had been using with much success lately, his "Oklahoma Roll." But the Iowa opponent reversed Callahan to tie the score 2-2. A four-point Granby roll gave Callahan a 6-2 lead heading into the second period. After exchanging scores in the second and third periods, Callahan found himself with a narrow 10-8 lead late in the third period. The Baldwin wrestler refused to relent and scored one more takedown to take a 12-8 lead with 11 seconds remaining. Callahan cut his opponent away to give him an escape point and the Iowa opponent scored a last second takedown to close the score to 12-11, but it wasn't enough as an excited Callahan celebrated his hard-fought national crown with a leap into his proud father's arms.
Callahan explained the moment.
"I was just really excited about what I accomplished. It meant a lot for me to accomplish that," Callahan said. "I put a lot of work into this. Extra conditioning is one thing that really helped me out. It also really helped me out to wrestle Gabe in practice because we didn't slack off any and we gave each other a good workout."
Another Baldwin wrestler nearly earned All-American status, missing by one match. Gabe Mason, competing in the 12-under, 112-pound division, went 2-2 and finished in the top eight of his 32-man bracket. The top six were awarded All-American plaques. After a bye in the first round, Mason won his first match by points, before losing a tough decision in the quarterfinals. He then rebounded to win by fall with an exciting headlock in overtime before losing to an Iowa opponent by an 11-2 score in the elimination round. Mason had placed third at the state tournament the weekend before and has been a two-time state placer, finishing fourth and third.
Other Baldwin wrestlers competing were Josiah Mason and Alan Callahan. Both lost hard-fought matches to get eliminated before All-American placing rounds, but competed valiantly in their quest for a plaque.
Kevin Callahan became the first Baldwin national champion and the first two-time nationals place winner. The only wrestlers that have placed at nationals are Callahan (fourth and first), Kyle Flory (sixth) and Sean Potter (fifth).