Harris is the champion


Record editor

Ben Harris had a secret to keep Friday and Saturday.

A day before he and four other members of the South Whidbey High School wrestling team hopped in a van and headed for the 2A state championship in Tacoma, Harris was playing a wild ball game inside the school’s wrestling room. It was a reward for hard work done throughout the season, a way for him and three other state-bound Falcons to let off steam. His coach, Wes Helseth, had balked at the idea at first, but then let the game start. It was the day before state: What could happen?

In the midst of that game, Harris — a second-place finisher in the 160-pound division at state in 2003 and the top-rated 171-pound wrestler for 2004 — fell hard on his left shoulder. It swelled; it was difficult to move. A few hours later, a doctor told Harris he had a second-degree separation between his collarbone and shoulder. Wrestling in the state tournament, it seemed, was out of the question.

But keeping this piece of information between himself, his coaches, teammates, an athletic trainer and his parents, Harris made the trip to Mat Classic XVI and won a state championship anyway.

“It’s an amazing story,” said Falcon coach Wes Helseth just minutes after embracing Harris in the aftermath of his 8-5 victory over Vashon’s Paul Radisky. “It’s one of the legendary stories you hear about.”

On a steady diet of ibruprophen and taking multiple electro stimulation treatments from South Whidbey athletic trainer Jim Christensen, Harris managed to keep secret the fact that his shoulder could give way at any moment — something that would take him out of competition and send him directly to surgery.

With each victory — 6-0 in the first bout over Tony Lee of Connell, 11-2 over Cory Creighton of Stevenson in the second, and 11-2 over Trent Tyler of Elma in the third — the swelling in the shoulder grew visibly, something the Falcons hid with towels and other methods.

“After matches, we shoved him back in the hotel,” said Helseth.

The veil of secrecy came off only after Harris finished Radisky. It was the second time in two weeks Harris had beaten the Vashon wrestler, who was the top-ranked 171-pounder in the state the entire season.

Standing still breathing hard and sweating on the edge of the championship mat in the Tacoma Dome Saturday night, Harris said his first public words about his injury and about becoming a champion.

“I put the pain in the back of my mind,” he said. “No pain, that’s what I kept saying to myself.”

To win the championship, Harris had to outlast one of the toughest opponents he’d seen all season. After getting out to a 2-0 start on a takedown in the first round of the championship bout, Harris just clung to his lead through the second round, making an escape and a reverse to stay up 5-4 in the face of two Radisky takedowns.

In the third round, Harris pulled into the lead to stay, escaping once and scoring another takedown to go up 8-4. For the final 30 seconds of the bout, he kept an exhausted Radisky completely wrapped up and nearly immobile.

Not only did Harris have to keep the information about his shoulder away from his opponents, lest they exploit it as a weakness, but he had to forget about it himself.

“If I wrestled too timid, I couldn’t wrestle at championship status,” he said.

With the end of the tournament, Harris finishes a season in which he lost only once, to Zac Hardwick of East Valley-Spokane, the state 4A champion. Helseth said Hardwick is the only 171-pound state champion Harris has not beaten this season.

Outside of Harris’ championship, the Falcons came up short of their goals in other weight classes. Making it the furthest into the competition was 112-pound senior Phil Schorr, a third-place finisher at 103 pounds at last year’s Mat Classic. The team’s only placer besides Harris, he earned seventh place on the strength of three victories — a 6-2 win over Sam Larson of Nooksack Valley in the first round, a fall victory over Joe Frasquillo of Klahohya after a second-round loss in the championship bracket, and an 11-2 win over Justin Propeck of Medical Lake in the seventh-eigth-place final.

Not placing in the tournament were senior Conley White and junior Tyler Rueth, both of whom competed at state last year. White won his opening 135-pound bout against Kevin Jared of Newport by fall before losing in the next two rounds to be eliminated. Rueth, at 119 pounds, lost his first two bouts and was also eliminated.

South Whidbey finished 20th as a team in the meet out of a total of 45 participating teams.

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