By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Playing football for the Stillwater High School football team, Stillwater High School senior Chuck Neal has seen it all. He’s been through two knee surgeries and was a part of last year’s Pioneer squad that shared the district title with Tulsa Union.
But none of that prepared him for what he faced a few weeks ago.
For the first time in his high school career, Neal set foot in a different arena — the wrestling mat a Pioneer Fieldhouse.
“I was pretty nervous going into it,” Neal said. “I didn’t know a lot of moves and stuff. They’ve just been trying to work me into the rotation. Somebody was gone, so I just had to step in for them.”
Nobody expected Neal to come away with a win against Shawnee’s Thomas Shepard — not in his first match. But Neal did surprise a lot of fans by making it through the first period before getting pinned with 58 seconds left in the second period.
“I’m proud of Chuck,” said Stillwater junior King Williams, who was a big influence in why Neal was on the mat. “This was his first time wrestling and we just told him to go out there and do his best. I was very proud of Chuck and what he accomplished in that match. You can never under estimate Chuck. He’s a great athlete so you never know what he’s capable of doing.”
“Probably a lot of people, including myself didn’t expect it to go more than one period,” Stillwater coach Doug Chesbro said. “The kid won by fall, but he knows it wasn’t easy.”
Neal’s reason for wrestling this year was simple — he needed something to fill the void between the football season and track season. As it turns out, wrestling has provided an added bonus of helping the senior become more disciplined in school and athletics.
“I thought it would be a good sport to make me work on myself a little bit more,” Neal said. “It makes me judge myself a little more and makes me push myself, which is something I need going into college football.”
Taking what he learned on the gridiron, Neal has applied some of those same lessons on the wrestling mat during practice. It’s taken some time, but Chesbro said he’s starting to see some results.
“I’ve had it happen before, but the sad part is that it takes so much to learn the sport that it’s hard for a kid to come in and be successful right off the bat,” Chesbro said. “Now the thing is to see if he will stick it out. Will he take those lumps along the way and continue to be part of the program and part of the team until you get your opportunity to win.”
Without a doubt, Neal would have loved to win his first career match. But just wrestling in the match seemed easier than the whirlwind leading up to it.
From learning that he was wrestling at 1:30 that afternoon to trying to figure out exactly where to go with the help Chesbro, Neal learned there’s a lot more to wrestling than meets the eye.
“Really, I was just trying to make him feel comfortable going up there his first time,” Chesbro said. “I know what it’s like to step up there. As a matter of fact, he looked at me and said, ‘OK what do I do?’ I took him over there and had him tell the girl what his name was and then I told him to step on the mat and the referee will tell him what to do from there. He had to look over at me to get a choice. Chuck really didn’t have an idea of what the referee was trying to ask him, but we got it taken care of.”
It would be easy for Neal to say that perhaps wrestling isn’t for him after the loss. He knows that each time he takes the mat he’ll be going up against guys who are more experienced and more conditioned, but that won’t keep him away.
“I feel like in the later matches I’ll really be able to get into it,” Neal said. “I’ll know a lot more and I’ll have a lot more energy. I definitely learned that I have to do a lot more conditioning. I’m going to make sure I’m making all the workouts in the mornings and I’ll probably do a little more running before school and after school.”
As the Pioneers enter the winter break, Neal has continued to take the baby steps needed with the help of Williams and Chesbro. It’s been an adjustment, but Chesbro knows that if Neal sticks with it, the senior will reap the rewards in the end.
“When you do what you’re supposed to do and you’re a good person, things happen for you sometimes,” Chesbro said. “I don’t know if Chuck looks back on this that he will think that it was a positive experience or not, but in my opinion it was a good thing for him. He was able to come out here and do something for his team and his school.”