In the Class 3A 195-pound consolation semi-final bout at last weekend's Mat Classic wrestling tournament, between Peninsula's Chance Stolz and Hanford's Will Bishop, things weren't going Stolz's way. Up 13-2, Bishop was in complete control of the match, until he made a careless mistake. He performed an illegal throw on Stolz, causing Stolz to land awkwardly on his neck. In high school wrestling, when a wrestler performs a throw, he has to allow his opponent to come down on either his knees or hands, to give them a safe landing. That didn't happen.
Stolz was being examined by the medical staff and was about to be awarded the win, due to the illegal slam. A win would allow Stolz to wrestle for third place in state in the next match. What happened next shocked Hanford's coach.
Stolz approached the referee and told him to allow Bishop to win by injury default.
“The guy was beating me 13-2 so I was like, 'He's beating me. He deserves the match,'” Stolz said.
While the move was clearly illegal, Stolz said he didn't think it was malicious. These things happen in wrestling. Stolz, only a sophomore, knew Bishop was a senior, and that this Mat Classic would be his last.
“It wasn't like it was a super close match, it was 13 to 2,” Stolz said. “It's his senior year, his final go. I have two more years. It was kind of an in-the-moment decision, but it just felt like the right thing to do.”
Peninsula head coach Mark Nickels said he's glad Stolz is getting recognition for just being a good person.
“I think it shows a lot of the integrity he has,” Nickels said. “I don't think anybody wants to have a win that has an asterisk next to it. You know where that's from. He could've stood higher on the podium, sure, but did he beat the kid? No.”
Stolz said his sense of sportsmanship came from his upbringing, and also his coaching. The Peninsula wrestling team has a motto: Earn your spot.
“I think he has his heart in the right place, he has a good head on his shoulders,” Nickels said. “Nobody wants to walk away with a win that you didn't earn. I respect that about him. He's a hard worker, and he'll earn it. It just wasn't his time.”
While Stolz made an in-the-moment decision, he said he would make the same choice if it happened again.
“I knew what I was doing,” Stolz said. “It wasn't really a tough decision, it's just how I was raised.”
On high school wrestling's biggest stage, the stakes are high. A win, if not deserved, would feel somehow tainted.
“It was the right decision to be made,” Nickels said. “I think, given what's at stake, the state tournament is the culmination of everything these kids are working for. You want the podium to be as true of a representation of the top kids in the state (as possible).”
Stolz's decision is a testament to the type of program Nickels fosters. Peninsula wants to win just as much as everyone else, but they want to do it the right way, too.
“At the end of the day, you're just trying to better the sport,” Nickels said. “That's one of the other messages we really want to instill in kids. Do what you can to make the sport better. Things like that, with acknowledging the right athlete to move on, and acknowledging athletes who make good decisions like that, are good examples of the best that you can find in the sport.”
Sports reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.