PORT HARDY — Bram Dalton succeeded impressively in his first high-school wrestling competition. The question is, will it be his last?
Dalton and four more Port Hardy Secondary School grapplers qualified for provincial championship berths before a home crowd Saturday, as the Vancouver Island Wrestling Championships returned to the North Island for the first time in nine years.
Dalton placed fifth in the male 57-kilogram weight class with a pair of victories in his first meet, then had to weigh the merits of traveling to Abbotsford for the B.C. High School Championships Feb. 24-26 or joining teammates at the Port Hardy Minor Hockey Association’s midget tournament that same weekend.
“It’s a tough decision,” said Dalton, a Grade 12 student in his final year of eligibility in both programs. “My last hockey tournament here, or my second wrestling tournament ever? Going to provincials is pretty big, though.”
Port Hardy coach Joe Humphries, who doubled as tournament director, was awarded the Island Wrestling Coaches Association’s Volunteer of the Year Award in a presentation just before the finals began.
“From my perspective, the tournament was a success,” Humphries said. “The coaches and athletes all received it very well. Without the help of PHSS, Malcolm Fleeton and all the parent volunteers this never could have happened.”
Unlike Dalton, PHSS Grade 12 Tyler Preece left no question about his intentions after battling to a fifth-place finish in a tough 78-kg class to earn a provincial berth. A year ago, Preece qualified in the fifth spot but elected to bypass the provincial meet.
“I didn’t really feel that strong (last year),” Preece said after his second-round pin of Alberni’s Tristan Schulze in the fifth-place match. This time, since it’s my last year and I feel stronger about my chances, I’ll go.”
The top five wrestlers in each male weight class and top six in each female weight class earned provincial spots in the meet, which had not been held in Port Hardy in any of these wrestlers’ lifetimes. The meet drew 123 competitors from 22 middle and secondary schools across the Island.
“The whole day was great,” said Graeme Wiggins, who reached the bronze-medal match at 70-kg and placed fourth in a close loss to Keegan Mercer of Vanier Secondary in Courtenay. “It felt really good wrestling at home, seeing all the friends and all the support.”
Greg Mose also had a fourth-place finish for Port Hardy in the male 54-kg class and Dusty Cadwallader was fourth in the male 110-kg class. Brodie Johnson narrowly missed a berth, placing sixth in the male 70-kg class.
No female students competed for PHSS in the meet.
Dalton, who knew little of what to expect in his first meet, was treated to the entire spectrum. He lost to a veteran wrestler in his first match, then won his second and threw both fists into the air in celebration.
“I just loved doing it,” Dalton said of the meet. “I was going against guys who were six-year veterans, throwing me around a bit, but I got to win and the coaches were congratulating me. It was good.”
Before Dalton’s fifth-place match, things got truly bizarre.
He was forced to wait nearly 20 minutes through a protest and injury in the match prior to his, then had to move with opponent Cory Cossenas of Campbell River’s Timberline High from the gym to the alternate mat in the drama room while an ambulance was called.
In the middle of a tight match, Cossenas attempted a second-round throw of Dalton but landed awkwardly. Dalton rolled him over only to find Cossenas unconcious. The incident drew a second ambulance call and delivered Dalton an injury-default victory.
Humphries, a former wrestling standout from Port Alberni, began building the PHSS program from scratch three seasons ago after arriving in Port Hardy for a job with DFO. He was surprised when called from his preparations for Saturday’s finals to receive a plaque recognizing his work for the sport.
“I thought it was completely unexpected and completely unnecessary,” Humphries said of the honour. “I do what I do because I love the sport. But it was nice to be recognized.”
Alberni District Secondary School claimed the boys team title with an overwhelming 116 points to 41 points for runner-up Esquimalt. PHSS placed 11th with 18 points.