MICHIGAN CITY — Drew Bailey almost gave up wrestling.
Merrillville’s senior 220 pounder didn’t have the grades to make the team during the first semester of his junior year. He fixed that problem in the next grading period but couldn’t beat the guy in his spot twice in a wrestle off -- the requirement to move up the varsity depth chart in the Pirates’ room.
“I had to learn how to get through adversity,” Bailey said. “If something gets hard, I can’t just quit.”
Saturday, Bailey was the lone Merrillville wrestler to win his weight class in the Duneland Athletic Conference meet at Michigan City. He beat Valparaiso’s J.B. Cioe 7-1.
“It’s disappointing (to be the only Merrillville champ),” he said. “A win would be a lot more fun if everybody could celebrate with me, but it still feels good.”
The Pirates did enough in the other classes to earn 210 points and end Portage’s streak of four straight conference titles. Merrillville, Crown Point and Portage split dual meets during the regular season.
“It’s been a while. We’ve had quite a few seconds,” Merrillville coach Dave Maldonado said. “Overall, we had a better team. We had (seven) guys in the finals but only one champ. All those kids worked hard, but where we won it was in the back side with all our younger guys over here winning big matches and getting pins for us.”
Merrillville had six second-place and three third-place finishers.
“Year after year, we have 10, 12 seniors that most of them don’t get a chance to wrestle,” Maldonado said.
Bailey also runs the 200- and 400-meter dashes for the Pirates track team. A 220-pound wrestler with sprinter’s speed is a rarity. Maldonado said Bailey’s actually lost about 10 pounds transitioning from track to wrestling season.
“It makes me feel good, weighing more than (other sprinters) and still being as fast or faster than most of those little guys,” Bailey said.
Bailey considers himself a sprinter first and a wrestler second. Winter sports are for conditioning.
But that doesn’t mean Maldonado and the Pirates wrestling coaches haven’t bestowed a few lessons on him.
“Wrestling’s more than just a sport. (Maldonado), he helps me at life,” Bailey said.
Crown Point finished second with 202 points and five individual champions. Portage was third with 190.5, followed by Chesterton (180.5), Lake Central (151), LaPorte (130.5), Valparaiso (77) and Michigan City (44).