You can't win 'em all if you don't win the first one.
Minutes after Griffith freshman Jeremiah Reitz won the state wrestling title at 106 pounds Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, talk was already turning to the subject of him possibly winning four.
It's not fair to heap that kind of pressure on a ninth-grader, but when you come from the school Reitz does, it's hard not to think of the names Alex Tsirtsis and Angel Escobedo, who accomplished the feat in an overlapping stretch between 2001 and 2005.
"I'm taking it one step at a time, one year at a time," Reitz said, already breaking out veteran cliches after his championship.
At the same time, this is a kid whose plan clearly is not to rest on his laurels.
"I don't want to be satisfied," Reitz said. "I'm going to make sure I'm still working in the offseason as soon as possible."
I'm nowhere knowledgeable enough about wrestling to predict anyone's fortunes with any great accuracy, but you have to believe Reitz's ceiling is pretty high.
Wrestling since he was 3, he'd never won a a state or national title in folkstyle, according to his dad, Joe. Jeremiah tirelessly soldiered on, simply trying to continue to improve, as he has trained with Tsirtsis and others at the Region Wrestling Academy. It came to fruition as he prevailed in a weight class that featured seven all-Americans and a national champion, Mount Vernon's Paul Konrath, who Reitz topped 4-2 in a thrilling overtime final.
With the graduation of fellow state champions, three-timer Stevan Micic and back-to-backer Gelen Robinson, Reitz figures to become the next face of region wrestling, a distinction unto itself.
We get to know these kids mainly as athletes during their four years on the high school scene, but the early and extended success of Micic and Robinson enabled us to get a peek at them as people, too. I'll long remember the two chatting in the hallway at Merrillville during the semistate. It was just a couple teenagers, a couple teenagers about 100 pounds apart with five state championships and two college scholarships between them.
Beyond their uncompromising work habits, there is a humility about their accomplishments and a gratitude for what they have achieved. Both made a point of thanking everyone who has played a role, large or small, in their success. Robinson, when addressed about his subdued reaction following his victory, talked about the respect he had for his fellow wrestlers and the desire to not insult them by making a spectacle of himself. He simply pointed and smiled to his section of supporters. No need for more.
Class personified these two.
Micic, also a straight-A student, will go to Northwestern to wrestle. We may see him in the Olympics some day. In all likelihood, we won't see Robinson on the mat again, his athletic attentions to focus on football at Purdue. A few people have said he could be playing on Sundays in five years.
Whatever levels they happen to reach, Micic and Robinson will not only be remembered for carrying on the storied tradition of high school wrestling in Northwest Indiana, but also for representing their sport and home in a top-shelf manner.
Thanks, guys, it's been a pleasure. Looking forward to following you in college and beyond.