Bourn with the Will to succeed

Collapsing to the ground in the warm-up area of what was his home for two days, senior Brandon Wilbourn shed tears signifying the closing of a four year varsity wrestling career capped off by winning an elusive state championship. A championship that had always been within reach but never achieved.

“Tears of joy,” he said. “I finally have gotten the monkey off my back.”

After three years with the weight of not winning a state title, it took just two days for WIlbourn to mark his place in Spartan wrestling history, and finally remove the monkey that had beared the weight of years past.

The monkey Wilbourn spoke of first presented itself during his first state title run which ended with him in third place. Since that year his state tournament success has been hindered by his inability to remain healthy. Not content with Wilbourn losing, that monkey would re-emerge in both of the following years in the form of neck and knee injuries. The injury prone Wilbourn suffered a title-hope ending injury in his sophomore season that was plagued by a neck injury that dismantled his hopes to continue competing in the late rounds of the tournament and rendered a second place finish.

With hopes of returning the next year healthy and ready to win, Wilbourn healed his injury and entered the offseason looking to get stronger, quicker, and better fit to win himself a championship. According to assistant coach Bill Mitchell, Wilbourn wrestled and trained 365 days a year to better prepare for the upcoming season.

“He never quit,” said Mitchell. “In all my 15 years of coaching I have never, aside from former FHC wrestler Kyle Bradley, seen anyone work like he does. His drive to be the best that there is has gotten him to be the wrestler that he is, and he is definitely something special.”

As he pushed forward, Wilbourn entered his junior season stronger and ready to take on another weight class. He had moved from his former weight class of 135 pounds to his new weight class of 145 pounds. After a strong season Wilbourn had set himself up for a deep run in the state tournament. However his hopes of redemption quickly dwindled when the monkey found its way back to his wrestling career and afflicted him yet again. This time it was an injury to his knee, and much like the outcome of the previous year, he was unable to finish wrestling in the tournament, taking sixth place. Wilbourn had one more year to make his dream into a reality, and he would stop at nothing to make this dream come to life.

Wilbourn headed into his senior year, once again stronger, and looked in the face of another weight class. He lost just one match during the regular season. This came in a meet where he had moved up one weight class in order to wrestle Drake Houdashelt of Fort Zumwalt West. Having placed first in his 152 pound weight class in the district tournament, he headed into state with a head of steam. Knowing that this was his last chance to prove himself created a sense of urgency about him.

“I knew that this was my last chance to get my state title,” said Wilbourn. “This was my time, and nobody else’s. I have been determined since the beginning of the season.”

In the early hours of the first day of wrestling at Mizzou Arena, Wilbourn had time to mentally prepare himself. Although he felt the pressure, he was nothing less than relaxed. Joking with teammates, and mentoring them to help them gain recognition in the tournament. Wilbourn quickly defeated his first two opponents, Sean Magoon of Waynesville high school and Jake Logsdonof Lees Summit West High School, both by fall. Then in his semifinal match, fate took a drastic turn for the worst.

The monkey had come back to ruin what would be his last season in a high school wrestling uniform, and strip him of his dream. Midway through the match against Trevor Wiest of Fort Zumwalt West, Wilbourn’s face filled with a look of agony. As the referee blew his whistle signifying a break in action, Wilbourn went to the coach’s corner and was examined by trainers.

“My arm popped out of its socket,” said Wilbourn. “I just thought to myself that I can’t go down like this again.”

As he stood up and re-entered the ring, Coach Mitchell grabbed him and turned him around.

“Get back out there,” Mitchell said. “Stop being a baby and finish what you started.”

Wilbourn grinned and bumped his chest to his coach’s chest, turned around with what seemed like a new confidence, and returned to the ring. After that point Wilbourn took control of the match and won a 3-0 decision, and for the first time since his sophomore year, he had reached the final match.

As the sun set on an action filled Friday night, Wilbourn knew what he must do to capture the state championship.

“I have to wrestle smart. I can’t get out of position, and I have to control the match the way I want it to be wrestled,” said Wilbourn after his semifinal match victory.

Arriving to the arena early Saturday morning, Wilbourn had a long day ahead of him. He would have to wait until 8 p.m. for his final high school wrestling match.

Throughout the day Wilbourn helped teammates to have an edge on the competition. During warm-ups he would find a wrestler who was getting on the mat for a match soon, and would give them pointers, and show them specific things that could help better them as wrestlers. Loose and relaxed, it seemed as though Wilbourn thought he was just at another tournament.

As the eight o’clock hour grew closer, tension started to mount. In the wings of the arena where the wrestlers warm-up, Wilbourn stretched and practiced. He joked with fellow wrestlers, and coaches, but the closer the match got the more reclusive he became. Buds of his iPod plugged into his ear, Wilbourn began the last stretch of his state tournament run. Listening to his music, and lip syncing the songs, he grew more and more confident, pacing the floors with a swagger that seemed to exude confidence. When his brother, Terrell, came off the floor and into the warm-up area winning his second state championship, he simply gave him a high five, but quickly went right back to his preparation.

“I was happy for him,” Wilbourn said. “It was my time to get ready though, and he knew that, and he was okay with it.”

As he made his way to the entrance of the arena to await the announcement of the 152 pound weight class, Wilbourn stood silent, determined, and focused. Making his way to the ring he looked into the eyes of Jeff Shell of Francis Howell North. They had met once before in the season, and Wilbourn had gotten the best of him. However, he knew that he had a job to be done, and according to Wilbourn, Shell was looking to win just like he was so he could not take him lightly.

“I had wrestled him a few weeks before this match,” said Wilbourn. “I beat him but he is a very good wrestler. I had to go in with the same mentality as if I had never wrestled him before.”

Scoring was not plentiful in the first part of the bout. After the referee blew his whistle to signify the beginning of the match, it took a full period before any scoring occurred. At the end of the first round, the score stood at 0-0. As the whistle sounded denoting the start of period two, Wilbourn jumped out to a lead, and by the end of the second period the score was 3-1. Wilbourn began to see the light at the end of the long tunnel that he had been traveling for the past four years of his life. It was time for him to hold it down, and win the state title he had been seeking.

The start of the third period bared more hope for Wilbourn when he earned himself two more points, and a commanding four point lead, but Shell would not go away. He came back and scored two points of his own, cutting the lead in half and sending Spartan fans into a frenzy.

As the crowd screamed and yelled and chanted Wilbourn’s name, the match came to an end with Wilbourn still in the driver’s seat by a score of 5-3. As he turned to the fans and recognized the support, he began to break down. Running off the floor and back into the side wing he fell to the ground.

“I finally did it,” he said. “I finally got the monkey off my back.”

While Wilbourn absorbed what he had just accomplished, coaches, teammates, and friends came from every end of the arena to congratulate him. Head Coach Steve Cross was one of the first to his side.

“This has been his goal since day one,” said Coach Cross. “He has had some really bad luck, but today has made it all worth it for him.”

A long career that had been obstructed by anything and everything that could stand in its way had finally been capitalized by what Wilbourn had wanted from day one: a state championship. According to coaches the ending to his Spartan career was something that they had only dreamed of for him, but they are sad to see him moving on.

“He deserves this more than anyone,” said Coach Mitchell. “If I could, I’d sit in his corner everyday.”