Wrestler of the Year: Austin Armetta
MAHOMET — An event that took place 18 years before Austin Armetta was born influenced the direction the Mahomet-Seymour athlete took for his senior year in wrestling.
The end of the story has been well-documented. Armetta won 38 of 40 matches and was the Class 2A state runner-up at 160 pounds.
His advancement to the championship match helped him secure All-Area Wrestler of the Year accolades.
Though he needed eight wins at the start of the year to reach 100 for his four-year varsity career, Armetta almost finished eight wins shy of the century mark.
A top-flight wrestler — who had qualified for state his freshman, sophomore and junior years — Armetta didn't feel the passion for the sport that he did for football.
When the fall-sport season ended with a first-round loss to Prairie Central, Armetta said, "I didn't know what I'd do. I was waiting to see what my friends would do."
For Armetta, it was never all about the 1-on-1 competition.
"I never did wrestling to wrestle," he said. "I did it more to be with my friends."
For a variety of reasons, M-S' number of participants in the senior class dwindled this season. Wrestling coach Rob Ledin gave the football players a week off after that sport ended before starting their next activity.
After a week and two days, Armetta had not returned to wrestling.
"When I realized they (many friends) were done, I had second thoughts," he said.
Words of wisdom
Jim Risley could relate to Armetta's feelings. As a high school senior at St. Joseph-Ogden in 1974, he had visions of grandeur.
"I'd wrestled three years, but I was a little disenchanted with wrestling," Risley said. "I had this grandiose notion I'd be a superstar in track."
Risley left the wrestling program, a decision he said, "I've regretted," almost since he made the choice. "A lot of kids I competed well with went on and placed at state that year," Risley said.
An assistant coach at M-S in track and a person who helps in the weight room, Risley had no doubts what Armetta would feel if he chose to forsake his final season of prep wrestling.
"It would haunt him," Risley said. "Believe me, it haunts you. The, 'I wonder what if,' or 'I wish I had.'
"I spoke to him honestly," Risley said. "Austin and our family are close. He knew I wouldn't lie to him just to coax him to come out. It was genuine to say he'd regret it. I knew someday he would think of it as a tragedy."
Learning from the past
Armetta appreciated the input he received from both Risley and Ledin.
"They're people I look up to," Armetta said. "Especially Jim. He told me he'd seen people make the wrong choice, that he'd made the wrong choice as a senior."
That acknowledgement opened up a floodgate of memories for Armetta, who in the spring is one of the area's top pole vaulters. After going through demanding seasons in football and wrestling as a freshman, Armetta didn't go out for track in 2009.
"I thought about how good of a choice I thought that was as a freshman," Armetta said. "I felt I was ready to be done and have a break, to lift more and get bigger for football and wrestling, but the one thing I regret most in high school is not doing track as a freshman."
He didn't repeat the same mistake a second time.
"One reason I came back was I still had some good friends (wrestling) and I didn't want to let them down," he said.
Collecting the honors
Those who watched Armetta compete as a senior didn't see any lack of motivation or gusto. That's because he didn't return just to go through the motions.
"It's one of those things, if you make the decision and choose to wrestle, that's what you set yourself to for the next three months," Armetta said. "There's no reason to only go halfway."
His efforts were recognized beyond the state medal that he now possesses. At M-S' postseason banquet, Armetta became the third wrestler (joining Rob Porter and Carl Zindars) in more than a quarter of a century to be presented the prestigious Bulldog Award for a second consecutive year.
"Last year, I almost wish they gave it to a senior, Matt Moxley," Armetta said. "If I'd known they were giving it to me, I probably would have talked to my coaches."
Referring to the criteria for the award, Ledin said it "explains Austin to a 'T.'
"The recipient of this award is someone that understands that they represent their team, school and community. They are role models to their peers and aspiring wrestlers. They are also the envy of other programs who wish that they had this person on their team. The winner exemplifies everything you would want in a wrestler, team leader, student, employee, son, brother, friend, etc. The winner's resume will speak for itself."
In Armetta's case, Ledin said, there couldn't be a truer statement.
"His loyalty to the program and coaching staff shows his amazing character and dedication," Ledin said.
Armetta, who wasn't pinned during the 123 matches he had after his freshman season ended, moved into a tie for third on M-S charts for career pins (76) after recording falls in 23 matches this year.
Reaching the Grand March as a senior was the culmination for Armetta, whose wrestling career began in sixth grade and included an eighth-grade state title at 119 pounds.
"He won't look back and wonder, 'What if?'" Risley said. "He can look back and say, "I did.'"
Now that he did, Armetta is prepared to make the decision he almost made in November. He is done with wrestling and by the end of June, he'll be finished with all interscholastic sports but recreational athletics.
"It will be tough," he said. "I don't have many hobbies and I don't play video games. I'll work out more and do intramural stuff, maybe softball or soccer. I won't sit and stop."
Armetta plans to enroll at Parkland College as an engineering major in the Pathways Program that will enable him to transfer to the University of Illinois after two years. Wherever the career path leads, Armetta knows one thing: "I don't want to sit in an office. I want to do something with my hands."
For now, the wrestling standout will have to take satisfaction in the hand that others are giving him for a job well done.