The sixth annual Barry Mask Invitational wrestling tournament was decided with a final match, and Prattville came out on top with a score of 138.5. But wrestling wasn't the primary concern for the coaches, athletes and fans Saturday at Wetumpka High School. They were still in mourning for four members of the state wrestling family.
"The wrestling community this last year, we've gone through so much tragedy," Mask said. "With (the loss of) John Hayden Countryman, Gil Collar, Kyle Dawkins and coach (Jerry) Beasley, that's why we dedicated the tournament to them this year. Because all four of those guys did a lot to promote wrestling in central Alabama."
The invitational exemplified family. Teammates came together, rivals came to peace and even the blood-related family members of the lost loved ones took a minute to reflect.
Collar, a former Wetumpka wrestler, was killed in October during his first semester at the University of South Alabama after an incident with a police officer. He was honored by fans from all schools donning his unique attire, a black shirt with a yellow rubber duck on it.
When Collar was in ninth grade, he couldn't find his traditional black and gold Wetumpka wrestling shirt before a tournament. So he went to his sister's room and used a T-shirt she bought at a yard sale, a black softball shirt, with a rubber duck on it.
"He thought, 'Black and gold, this will do.'" Collar's mother Bonnie said. "Of course he got ragged for it. But he said, 'This duck has special powers. If I wear it, I beat everybody.' He'd never worn it before, but that first time he wore it, he beat everybody in the tournament. After that, he wore it ever single tournament.
"His teammates wanted to do something to honor him, so they thought of the symbol of the rubber duck."
To show his support, Wetumpka's 184-pounder Tristan Leonard gave his third-place medal to Bonnie.
"That's what it's all about," Bonnie said. "Wrestling is family."
Countryman, a former Prattville wrestler, died in September. Countryman was a five-time state champion at 152 pounds and had a career record of 267-9. His brother, Jordan, is a Prattville assistant coach.
"The amount of support that we've had over the past few months has been nothing short of amazing," Jordan said. "It's nice to see people from so many different schools, not just from the Prattville area, but across the state. Just seeing Hayden's name, it makes me proud to see that he had that effect on people. It's just a great time to celebrate the legacies of these people and appreciate what they did for the sport."
Dawkins coached football and wrestling at Wetumpka, Jeff Davis and most recently at Stanhope Elmore. His son Chandler is an assistant coach at Wetumpka.
"For the kids and people like me, it gives us the drive to come back and do what he's done," Chandler said. "Coming in and learning the sport, and bonding with the kids. It's not just a job."
Beasley was a director for Region 5 youth wrestling and passed away in September. Two of his sons, Brent and Heath, refereed at the invitational, and another son, Brady, wrestles for Tallassee.
"It shows a lot of respect," Brady said. "He loved this sport, and it's showing that they're dedicating it to him for how much he's done for it. It makes me feel good."
Tallassee came right behind the Lions with 134 points. St. James and Stanhope Elmore tied for third with 112.5, Wetumpka scored 104 points to come in fifth, Jeff Davis was seventh with 80 points, Carver was eighth with 63 points and Elmore County came in 10th with 34 points.
"Normally I pick a wrestler of the week and announce it to the school," Prattville coach Trent Miller said. "On Monday, I'm going to give it to the whole team. We really pulled together today. We had a lot of injuries this year, and this is a very young team. But they've got a bunch of heart, they're scrappers."
Prattville's 140-pounder Caden McWhirter was named the John Hayden Countryman Most Outstanding Wrestler. Prattville's Garrett Wilson defeated Tallassee's Drew Baker 4-3 in the 184-pound finals for the Gil Collar Match of the Night.
Camden Funkhouser also took first at 115 for the Lions. Brandon Cunningham at 108, and Josh Epperson at 128, won for Tallassee. Carver's Daniel McCall and Darius Preyer won at 222 and 287, respectively. St. James' Matt Murray won at 132.