Step into the Elma High School wrestling room and it is hard not to notice them. Just pieces of wood in the shape of the state of Washington with some blue and white paint, but each plaque represents the blood, sweat and tears of one of Elma’s past wrestlers. Outlining the walls of the room, the plaques provide more than just decoration, they are inspiration for every Eagle who enters the room.
Not every wrestler gets a plaque. It takes dedication and a placing finish at the state meet, known as the Mat Classic. Plaques go back several decades with names that are still talked about with honor, names of family members and even the names of the current coaches. Blue plaques are nice, they get you on the wall, yet it is the white plaques that every wrestler dreams about.
They may just be pieces of wood, but for four Elma wrestlers this season they mean everything.
Seniors Tanner Sample, 132, Tyson Dick, 145, Austin Cristelli, 152, and Brek McGaughy, 220, dream of a plaque on the wall. That dream began early and has become an undying passion this season.
“I started 15 years ago just to get one of these,” Sample said pointing at a plaque. “You might as well give it everything you have right now because you only have 29 days and you will never wrestle again.”
Sample and Dick began wrestling when they were just 3 years old. In Sample’s family, it has become a tradition to wrestle, so he followed the lead of his cousins and other family members and took to the mats. Dick had a gentle nudge from his father, Elma wrestling coach Jason Dick, to get into wrestling and, after a while, he was hooked on the sport himself.
Cristelli grew up watching his family members wrestle and joined Sample and Dick in the wrestling room at the age of four and soon, all three of the wrestlers would load up in Jason Dick’s vehicle and ride to whatever tournament was that weekend. The memories of the first tournaments are fuzzy, yet what is clear is the dream they took from those first years of seeing their names on one of the plaques in the wrestling room.
“My entire life, since I was three years old, that has been my dream,” Sample said. “It would be the biggest accomplishment of my life.”
Sample, Dick and Cristelli all realized their dream last year when the trio placed at state. Sample took third, Dick finished fourth and Cristelli took seventh, all blue plaques. The color didn’t matter last year. Now, a white plaque is the only prize that will satisfy their hunger.
“I always dreamed of having a plaque,” Cristelli said. “Now I got one and I want another one. There have been a lot of good wrestlers who have came through and they don’t have one. You are up on the wall with some of the best guys in the entire United States.”
McGaughy was a bit of a late comer compared to the others as he didn’t begin to wrestle until he was seven. Like all of the others, he comes from a wrestling lineage. His father, Dravin, is on one of the plaques, but the honor escaped McGaughy last year at the Mat Classic. Since then, he hasn’t stopped wrestling. He’s never given up. The day after the classic, McGaughy won the state folkstyle tournament and that was the beginning of the off season. Although, really, there is no true off season for the four wrestlers as they have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of a state championship. During the season, each wrestler has between 30 and 40 matches. In the months between seasons, each of the wrestlers competed in 80 to 100 matches.
For Cristelli, the off season was a chance for his hand to heal after he broke a bone in the regional tournament. With a cast on during the state meet, Cristelli fought through to put his name on the wall.
The three others stayed on the mat and competed in tournaments almost every weekend from the end of the season in February until May. After a month off they were back for wrestling camps until they took another month off in August so some of the wrestlers could participate in football then it was back to the mat.
This season on the mat is about more than winning matches, but wins over quality opponents. Sample showed he was ready to wrestle from the first dual against Vashon Island when he pinned his opponent in less than 20 seconds. Dick finished second at two of the toughest tournaments of the season, the Gut Check Challenge and the Vashon Island Invitational. McGaughy and Cristelli both scored pins against their opponents on Jan. 30 against Montesano.
“When we were little if we lost, ‘Oh well,’ and go eat,” Cristelli said. “Now, we don’t lose. Now, if you lose, it’s, ‘what did I do incorrectly?’”
The four have adopted an eat, sleep, wrestle mentality and when the wrestle part doesn’t go the way they plan, the eat and sleep parts suffer.
“We sit and watch our videos and say ‘This is what I did wrong,’ and we’re not hungry anymore,” Tyson Dick said. “Just watching videos until you go to sleep.”
Sample said the gravity of each meet has sunk in for him this year and the pressure makes losing almost unbearable.
“This year is a lot more serious,” Sample said. “This is what you work for. As soon as I lose a match, I grab my camera and I go sit by myself somewhere and see exactly what I did wrong and I’m just fuming and I watch what I did wrong until I calm down.”
Each wrestler isn’t alone in their drive for the championship. They share the vision with their teammates and coach, but also those names on the plaques. The words on the plaques aren’t just names, they are individuals who have been through the same pressure the wrestlers face and still come in on occasion to give back.
“Guys on our wall come back,” Jason Dick said. “The alumni come back and I promise you these guys will come back. The best time to come in here is Christmas because you never know who you will see in here.”
Each of the former wrestlers help the current athletes in a different way. Some show different ways to perform moves. Others spar with the current wrestlers. Jason Dick is one of those former wrestlers with a plaque on the wall. The plaque is blue. He finished second and he said not a day goes by that he doesn’t relive that championship match in his head. Every time he steps into the wrestling room he is reminded of his finish so close to a championship. His experience helps him to push the four seniors to their limits to help them achieve what he never did.
“He is intense,” Cristelli said of Jason Dick. “He wants us to do good so he gets emotional over stuff. He cares. He is fired up because he wants us to win so he pushes us. He wants us to do what we can do.”
A plaque isn’t the goal anymore, it is the white plaque they continue to strive for every day. Sample has spent 15 years working for the Mat Classic this season and anything other than a state championship would be almost failure.
“I’ve put in so much time just for that white plaque that to not get it would be a complete shut down of all those hours,” Sample said. “You put in so much time that to win second, to come one match short, would be just devastating.”
For Tyson Dick, the plaque has become more than a personal goal. In April, he made a promise he intends to keep.
“I would be pretty devastated,” Tyson Dick said of the possibility of not winning the state meet. “It means a lot to me. Before my grandpa died, I promised him I would win for him. That white plaque up there is bigger than me. I need to do it for him, for me and for everybody to prove that I am the best, not just some guy who has placed at state.”