Nine-year-old Clint Mayo is already doing a convincing impression of a battle-tested veteran wrestler.
Mayo, who recently won state championships in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling in the 60-lb. weight class, was clearly proud of the two large medals hanging from his neck but said the key was treating the state meet like “just another tournament.”
In Clint’s case, “just another tournament” usually translates to “just another trophy.”
His father, Beau, who helps coach the Stephenville Youth Wrestling Club, gently corrected his son, saying the boy did show more emotion than usual.
“He jumped up and down a little bit,” Beau said. The wins were especially sweet considering Clint’s near-miss during the regular season, when a last-second point pushed his opponent past him.
Still, Clint admitted his business-like approach came easier after the fact.
“Before you win it, though, it’s really tough to (treat the state meet like any other tournament),” Clint said.
He’s now set to compete at the Southern Plains Regional tournament, to be held in Hays, Kan., June 14-16. Later this month, Clint will take his shot at an AAU Ironman event in Omaha, Neb., in which wrestlers compete in three styles: freestyle, Greco-Roman and collegiate.
And though these events are in the nation’s heartland, where wrestling commands the sort of devotion football creates locally, Clint is looking forward to testing himself against the country’s best.
Plus, as his father added, “it doesn’t matter where you come from” in wrestling. An athlete’s work ethic is much more important than his home state — and Clint, who was busy Wednesday afternoon practicing with a dummy nearly as heavy as he is, has that part taken care of.
Besides, “the people who actually compete in wrestling (in Texas) take it very seriously,” Beau said — and can compete accordingly. In other words, quality trumps quantity.
It doesn’t always come easily, though — just ask Clint.
“I pretty much got my butt kicked (at first),” Clint said. “I got swung around and slammed.”
Now, with experience and determination on his side, Clint’s the one doing the slamming.
“It’s a lot (more fun) when you win,” he said.
His success is a function of “training hard and waiting (until you get a knack for it).” In his first season, Clint lost about 75 percent of his matches, Beau said.
“It’s a humbling experience for a kid,” the elder Mayo said. “When you do finally win, it means something.”
Through it all, Clint said pride kept him going. It’s also his favorite part about wrestling — the pride he feels after leaving it all on the mat.
While the feeling after a big win is “the best,” he also knows that “if you really tried hard, you still get the same effect.”
Clint’s success highlights a big year for the still-new club. Beau said he was “a little bit” surprised by the team’s success, but was more impressed with the sheer number of local children who came out to the twice-a-week practices.
Fifty athletes signed up, far exceeding Beau’s estimate of 10 to 15. Between the two sessions per night, which were divided by age, an average of 30 youngsters took part each time.
Word of mouth was a big part of the surge — Clint, who is homeschooled, recalled friends saying “I told every kid at school.”
“I’m really expecting a big turnout next season,” Beau said.
The end goal, he said, is for the club to become a feeder system for a team at Stephenville High School. In a few years, the talent will be available, and Beau and his fellow youth coaches will “do our best to get it done.”
Without programs like the club, athletes find themselves at a disadvantage in UIL competitions.
“It’s hard to go in there as a freshman and compete with those guys if you don’t have the background,” Beau said.
The new season begins in November, with the club starting practice the month before.
Clint, who just finished fourth grade, was ho-hum about the start of summer. Instead, he’s already “looking forward to October” — and more time to hone his skills.