By Garth Shanklin
Williamsburg senior Brian Stears took advantage of a rare opportunity earlier this month.
Stears competed in the Junior Olympics in Novi, Michigan from July 31 through August 4 as part of Ohio Scarlet, one of six teams from Ohio in the event. Other teams came from Maryland, Delaware, Michigan and Pennsylvania to compete.
Stears did more than hold his own in the competition, finishing with three victories (two pins and a 10-0 tech fall) along with several wins via forfeit. He said he initially wasn’t sure if he would be able to handle the coemption, but he knew that he had the skill to do so.
“Initially, I didn’t think I was going to go,” Stears said. “I knew that I had the skill, but I didn’t know if I was up for the opportunity. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know if I was capable of it.”
Stears said the opportunitiy to attend the event came about while he was preparing for other wrestling matches.
“I was at a freestyle/greco-roman state, which are different styles of wrestling,” Stears said. “There was a coach there who talked to my coach about it because he saw me wrestling. He wanted to know if I was interested, and after finding out my credentials in the sport, he suggested I go to the Junior Olympics.”
Stears added that in order to prepare for the event, he and the other wrestlers attended a camp that lasted nearly a week.
“We had a four-day camp where we practiced three times a day,” Stears said. “We did technique live training, where we went 100 percent. We did more technique and drilling that goes into freestyle and we would do that up in Delaware, Ohio before we went to Michigan. I left on a Wednesday, and that was the first day of practice.”
Williamsburg head wrestling coach Brandon Dean said he was “proud” of Stears for his performance in the event, noting it was important to get the senior that type of exposure.
“I think it was great for a lot of reasons,” Dean said. “He’s starting to get recruited, he had a great season last year. The big thing with Brian is that he never really stepped on a mat until his sophomore year. He had a great season, but he didn’t make it out to the state tournament. Last year, he made it and he placed fourth.”
Dean said Stears’ lack of time on the mat is one of the main reasons he works hard to get into bigger tournaments.
“[Stears] hasn’t had a huge body of work, so it’s hard for colleges that are looking at him to gauge where he’s at after two seasons. We’re trying to get him as many matches as we can against good competition to get his name out there, he’s definitely on the level where he could wrestle Division I, it’s just a matter of getting those guys to look at him.”
In addition to competing against some of the top wrestlers in the area, which Dean said he knows Stears is already able to do, another key aspect of the tournament helped prepare Stears for life after high school: the coaching.
“We know he’s at the level where he can compete with those kids,” Dean said. “I wanted him to get the feel for wrestling for somebody else. His entire wrestling career has been in high school. We wanted to get him that experience where he wrestles for somebody else because when he graduates next year and moves on, we’re not going to be in his corner.”
Both stears and Dean agreed after the tournament that the senior performed like he belonged on the mat with the other wrestlers.
“I definitely feel like I belonged up there competing with those guys,” Stears said. “There were a lot of nationally ranked kids and a lot of state champions. There were a lot of kids up there and I was competing with them and on their level.”
Dean agreed, citing Stears’ winning record against stiff competition.
“I think he did really well,” Dean said. “He beat two kids who were ranked top-25 in the country in heavyweight, you can’t complain about that. He went 8-6, every kid he lost to was nationally ranked in the top-25. He had a good experience up there.”
The experience that comes with the trip helped Stears realize something about his post-high school wrestling career.
“It gives me a better understanding of what level of wrestling I’m at, which makes me feel better about the level I’m competing in,” Stears said. “It helps me know that there’s more to come, that after this season my career isn’t over as a wrestler.”
Williamsburg has always prided itself as a community that helps out one another, which is something Stears can attest to first-hand. In order to help cover the costs of participating in the event, Dean launched a GoFundMe page. The $900 goal was met in roughly two weeks thanks to donations from 26 people.
“It made me feel spectacular…I’ve never been so greatful for anything,” Stears said. “Nobody was obligated to donate anything, I wasn’t knocking door to door. Everyone did it out of their heart and caring for our community and what they accomplished. It was just amazing.”
Dean also acknowledged the role the Williamsburg community played in sending Stears to Michigan. He then noted he expects great things out of Stears and the entire Williamsburg wrestling team this upcoming season.
“I’m proud of him,” Dean said. “I’m proud of our community for standing behind him and supporting him. I’m excited for our upcoming season, we’ve got two returning state placers. It’s going to be a fun year. Hopefully we have the first-ever state champ in Williamsburg wrestling history. That’s not a dream, that’s a possibility. It’s a possibility that two state champs come out of our room, and that’s exciting.”
Stears finished by once again thanking the community.
“I’m really thankful for my community,” Stears said. “I never would’ve had this opportunity if it weren’t for the coaches and the community.”