Sixteen teams traveled to Salt River High School, with one team coming from Durango, Colorado, to take part in the wrestling program’s first invitational tournament on January 13 and 14. The list of high school wrestling teams participating in the event was impressive (see sidebar).
Blaine Hillis, Eugene Lewis and Jesus Salazar were representing Salt River and finished the tournament with a combined 9 wins and 8 losses in their individual matches. Unfortunately, Lewis was injured after his third match of the tournament, against Cactus Shadows; although the neck injury was not serious, he is out indefinitely.
“He is a first-year wrestler who hopes to continue on in the years to come,” said head coach Marc Hillis.
Salazar is still striving to improve, and Hillis said it was a tough tournament for him.
Blaine Hillis was coming off a sprained elbow, and he began the tournament with an impressive fall over Greenway High School. He missed the medal rounds after falling into a three-way tie for second in his pool.
“He narrowly missed placing due to criteria,” Marc Hillis said. “He did well for being out of competition for a month. Although he did not place, he did pin both wrestlers who placed fourth and fifth in the tournament.”
Hillis said upon getting approval to host the tournament, he was able to pull together everyone he knew, including Bob Crosswhite, who served as the tournament director. He was a coach on a rival team from Winslow High School when Hillis himself wrestled in high school.
“He was eager to help, and with the help of another assistant of his, we had a smooth series of dual events and scoring,” he explained.
The head referee was a rival wrestler Hillis knew from Joseph City High School, Ray Burt.
“I’ve come to know him as an extraordinary ref who is fair, precise and always has the welfare of all the wrestlers on his agenda,” he said.
Hillis said LaRue Smith helped pull other resources and people together, including her son Hosteen Begay-Smith, who wrestled last year and finished sixth in the state. Wi-Bwa Williams and the Salt River cheerleaders were a big asset too.
“Hosting this tournament was something we thought about for a long time,” Hillis said. “We envisioned other Native schools coming here and also having other smaller programs here in the Valley. We were able to get teams from Hopi, San Carlos Apache, Tohono O’odham and the Navajo Nation to participate, which was impressive.”
Before the tournament, Gabe Martinez recited a prayer in O’odham, Angelica Gonzalez sang the national anthem in O’odham, and Ron Carlos sang a traditional Pipaash song. Salt River finished in a tie for 15th place with Phoenix Christian, scoring 141 points.