By Tim Huether
I have participated in or coached and followed youth wrestling since I was in grade school, and over the years I’ve witnessed some pretty amazing displays of sportsmanship, but Saturday had to be the best I’ve ever seen at the hands of Bennett County’s Mason Heath.
Mason was wrestling in the semifinals of the 170 pound weight class at the Region 4B Wrestling Tournament in Ft. Pierre Saturday. The winner of the match automatically qualified for the State B Wrestling Tournament.
The match against Philip Area’s Parker Snyder was close all the way, but Mason trailed 6-5 with time running down. The wrestlers went out of bounds with five seconds to go and would restart at the center. The ref blew his whistle and Mason went all out and caught Snyder in a throw, tossing him to his back for what appeared to be at least a take down and two points, and a win, but the main ref signalled no scoring, with a loud echoing of the word two being shouted all around the gym, signifying the fans were wanting the takedown.
The main referee and the other referee helping oversee the match gathered on the side and discussed it for a couple of minutes, then announced his throw was too late and he would lose the match, to which a majority of the gymnasium expressed their disapproval by soundly changing their yells from two, to boo.
Where I was taking photos, I could not see the clock, but I had checked just before they started back up and saw there were five seconds left. After reviewing the video later, it appeared Heath threw Snyder in four seconds, but that is a difficult one and a close one for the refs to make.
Shortly after the decision was made that Mason’s takedown would not count, a coach from another town walked past me and angrily told another coach, “If that had been my kid that happened to, I would be kicked out of this gym!”
That match meant everything to Mason...a trip to the State Tournament, a good seed at the tournament, but it was not to be.
Right after the refs decided he had lost, Mason shook Snyder’s hand and congratulated him, then walked over to the Philip Area coaches and shook their hands, then found Snyder again on the edge of the mat, gave him a hug and again congratulated him.
I asked Mason afterwards what he said to Snyder and he replied, “I told him he worked his butt off and it was a great match. Go get first and represent the Region.”
I asked Mason what his message would be to other athletes about showing good sportsmanship when they are faced with something like this he said, “It’s the right thing to do. There is no use getting all worked up about it, you can’t do anything about it.”
All that emotion is very tough, draining on an athlete and unfortunately, Mason needed to win his next match to qualify for state, and lost.
On the season, Mason made the finals of every tournament he was in and was rated third in the state at 170 entering the Region meet.
“I was not happy about the call at the end of Mason Heath’s semi final match,” said coach Clint Neville. “It could have gone either way and my argument was that we had put him on his back before the towel boy hit the ref to signal time was out. It was a very disappointing way to lose. As we were waiting on the call I told Mason, we accept what they decide and move on.”
“I am extremely proud of him,” said mom Michelle Heath. “Not just for how he handled that situation, but because he is a very hard working, humble wrestler who never does things like flex his muscles or other things to show off. He has a gratitude for the opportunities he has and is a great kid.”
“The next day after the Region tournament, he went in and ref’d AAU wrestling matches all day at the Legion,” added Michelle. “He helps out with the little kids wrestling when he can. When he walked up and gave the Philip Area wrestler a hug after he lost, I was so proud of him.”
Mason is just a Sophomore and has a bright future ahead of him. He qualified for the state wrestling tournament twice already and has two more years to make his mark even higher.
When students are participating in any school activity, they represent the school, the community and mostly...their family. If they act out poorly, everyone looks bad. When they show good sportsmanship, like Mason did, everyone is proud and it casts a positive light on the entire school.
When you see a Bennett County student wearing a shirt that says, “Warrior Pride,” think of students like Mason and what that really means, especially when they wear it on the inside, and out, like Mason did last Saturday.