Nathan Butler quietly stalked to the middle of the Leavenworth High School gymnasium Tuesday.
Clad in Pioneer blue and his customary red and black knee pads, all eyes fell on Leavenworth wrestling’s prize grappler.
The senior shook hands with his Lawrence Free State opponent as silence blanketed the crowd. Then a sharp whistle announced the final home bout of perhaps the greatest wrestler in LHS history.
From there, Butler did what he almost always does — he won.
“I approached it as just another dual,” the 285-pound class wrestler said. “That’s the only way you can do it with these big matches. At the same time, it did mean a lot. It was my last match here at Leavenworth in front of the home crowd so it felt good to go out on a high note.
“All the seniors did well and we came out with a W and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Pioneers hosted the Firebirds for its first and only home dual this season. After 13 matches, Leavenworth trailed 35-33 when Butler and his heavyweight opponent took the mat.
Forty seconds later, the LHS senior pinned his Free State foe to not only give the home team a 39-35 win, but also send him and his fellow teammates out on top.
“Coming in as freshmen, we were really young, but had a good group of seniors that sort of showed us what wrestling was all about,” Butler said. “Coach J was young like us too, so we all kind of grew together. We made each other better. We have great leaders and I think we have grown leaps and bounds since our freshman year.”
Leavenworth coach Jay Johnston echoed those sentiments.
“These seniors are a great group of kids,” he said. “It hurts to lose them because they are such great leaders. I have never had any issues with them. They are all just fantastic kids and it’s been amazing how blessed we are to have them.”
As far as the dual was concerned, it wasn’t the Pioneers best performance. The team did get victories from Danny Wilson, 16-0 at 113, and Danial Wilson, a pin win at 138. Senior Pete Gardner (160) collected an open victory, as did Jason Rydalch (126), while senior Kenneth Sculley pinned his 195-pound opponent and senior Kelsey Mason was victorious 11-3 at 152.
“The dual was okay, we looked sloppy,” Johnston said. “Having the Challenger Saturday and a dual tonight, they just looked tired and not sharp. It was not like us, but we recovered and gutted it out.
“I thought Danial Wilson wrestled pretty tough at 138. That was a good quality win. Sculley is really coming along at 195.”
Page 2 of 2 - Brad Young (106), Hannah Overbey (120), Mike Harrington (132) and Mark Davis (145) all suffered losses. The Pioneers will compete at the Smithville Tournament on Saturday.
Yet in the end, all that mattered was the aforementioned senior class, which also includes Jesse Colver, Tilden Edwards, Ben Soukup and Nick Vidoli, because they left Leavenworth High Tuesday night as winners.
“It’s going to hurt losing these guys after the season,” the LHS coach said. “Both on and off the mat. I’m going to miss them.”
Five Rams begin year perfect
On Saturday, the Pleasant Ridge wrestling team competed in the Atchison Tournament, where five of its grapplers finished undefeated.
Jared Johnson (170), Aaron Brown (195), Clayton Gum (106) and Tony Weber (113) all went 5-0 at the 10-team dual tournament. Jacob Gum (106) went 4-0.
“They all started strong,” PR coach Darren Weber said. “There is no doubt, though, Jared was the leader. He is definitely ready for the season, has been training all summer, and he stood out the most.”
Other top Ridge wrestlers were Blake Graham going 4-1 at 126 and Logan McKinney finishing 4-1 at 220.
As far as team results, Ridge went 2-2 in pool play before defeating Eudora 65-12 for a third place finish.
“We started out a little cautious and sluggish, but it seemed as the day wore on we really wrestled strong,” Weber said. “Versus Eudora, you could see how much better we were doing. I think our confidence improved as the day went on.”
PR will host Silver Lake, Onaga and Doniphan West Thursday starting at 5:30 p.m.