As a transfer from Cary High after his freshman year, Cardinal Gibbons High wrestler Jon Burns was forced to sit out his sophomore season. That was the rule. No excuses.
But the regulation doesn’t bar a student-athlete from practicing on his own. And Burns worked as hard as he could in his time away from high school wrestling to make his junior year a memorable one. So far, he is on the right path.
In his first appearance at the WRAL Wrestling Invitational tournament at Athens Drive High last weekend, the effort Burns (23-0) has put into his sport seemed to pay off as he pinned Eastern Wayne High’s Detori Mitchell in only 2:54 to claim the 140-pound class title.
“I’ve been training really hard and traveling to a lot of tournaments,” Burns said. “The guys that I wrestled, they are champions in different states and have different styles of wrestling. [At Cardinal Gibbons] I practice with the team, then I practice some more afterwards.”
In his freshman year at Cary, Burns was honored as the second-best Freshman of the Year by NC Mat after finishing third in the 2005 NCHSAA 4-A state tournament. Earlier this year, he took home the 140-pound title in the Jim King/Orange Invitational after defeating Athens Drive’s Josh Williams.
Cardinal Gibbons coach Stan Chambers is well aware of Burns’ potential to be one of the top wrestlers in the area, and after seeing the effort he has put in so far, Chambers seems certain that if the junior continues working, that potential could become reality.
“I think the big difference is he’s grown up a lot this year and, in the time he had off, he wrestled for my wrestling club, Dynamic Wrestling, in which he did a lot of traveling to national events,” Chambers said. “He’s still got a lot of work to do, but he’s about to be really good.”
Pirates take first
Despite Burns’ victory, the Crusaders finished 23rd out of 36 teams with 50.5 points. Winston-Salem’s Parkland High placed first with 237.5 points, while Durham Riverside High finished second with 165.5.
As a team known for consistently churning out high-caliber wrestlers, this year was no exception for Riverside. Pirates senior Colton Palmer set a record for the tournament as he captured his fourth championship trophy after pinning Pikeville’s C.B. Aycock High’s Bryant Lancaster in 2:47 at 145 pounds.
Palmer received his second consecutive Most Outstanding Wrestler award — a title well deserved as he is currently the most successful wrestler to come through the WRAL tournament in its 35-year history. With a 39-0 record this season, Palmer has amassed a career total of 231 wins and only four losses.
“I was looking more to just win and to have a good performance,” Palmer said. “But being a four-time champion is a plus, definitely. This is a very tough North Carolina tournament. It definitely had a lot of tough guys and guys that will do real well in states this year.”
Palmer’s teammate Sheldon Wilder, a 112-pound senior, extended his undefeated record to 39-0 after serving Southern Wayne High’s Doogie Neimond his first loss of the season. Wilder took home the title with a 14-8 victory against Neimond in the championship round.
Riverside also claimed two second-place titles from Jeff Valentine, a junior at 103 pounds, and Zach Pierce, a senior at 119 pounds.
Raleigh’s Millbrook High and Leesville Road High each had a champion of their own for team finishes of 16th and 17th, respectively.
Millbrook’s Cornelius Williams (15-0) downed Lumberton High’s Teague Little 10-8 in the 160-pound class for the title, while Leesville’s Billy Edwards (36-1) pinned Parkland’s Lane Wilmoth in 3:10 for the 130-pound championship.
As the host and the only team from the Tri-Eight conference in the tournament, Athens Drive finished 21st with 60.5 points.
Even though the Jaguars weren’t able to place as high as they had hoped, coach Nathaniel Scott was happy with the outcome.
“We’re not quite at a level where we can go with some of the better wrestlers right now,” he said. “We’re a young team, but even for some of our experienced guys, they bump into a competitive guy and it’s tough. I’m not at all disappointed, though. Actually, I’m quite pleased that our kids wrestled as well as they did.”
Scott said he plans on continuing to hold the tournament at Athens, but this year set the bar as to how many teams will have a chance to enter.
“We’ve maxed out,” he said. “Thirty-six is more than enough. The turnout was great, the competition was excellent and the rounds ran smoothly, though. It was an exceptional year here, it really was.”
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