Back Home, Astrauskas Title Dreaming Again
January 16, 2019
By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half
HOWARD CITY – Tanner Astrauskas is back on track to achieve his goal of becoming an MHSAA Finals champion.
Tragedy almost prevented him from realizing that dream.
Astrauskas is a senior 140-pound wrestler for Tri-County High School. He had a solid start to his career, winning 35 matches as a freshman and then as a sophomore going 44-7 and placing eighth at 125 pounds at the Division 3 Individual Finals.
But just before he stepped onto the mat to wrestle his first match that 2017 weekend at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Astrauskas received disheartening news that changed his world in an instant.
"Just before the finals of my sophomore year I found out my best friend killed himself, and I found that out just before I wrestled at state," Astrauskas said. "That whole tournament I was pretty broke, I didn't even want to wrestle. I got pinned in my first match by the kid who ended up winning it, and then I won my next two matches 4-2 and 5-0 to make it into the medal round. I was pretty happy I placed considering the circumstances."
Best friend Casey Eckert was only 15 when he died. The circumstances lingered for Astrauskas when he returned home to Howard City, and they sent him into a downward spiral.
"Two days after state we had his funeral, and that took me to a dark place," Astrauskas said. "I wasn't doing so well in school, and I ended up running away from home."
Astrauskas ran away to Tennessee to stay with friends, but it was another friend who helped bring him back to Michigan.
"My friend, Hunter Brimmer, was at Olivet (College) and he talked me into coming back and (being) with my parents,” Astrauskas said. “And they ended up picking me up from Olivet and taking me home."
But Astrauskas was still empty and searching for answers.
"After coming home, I still needed to get away to find myself and I ended up moving to Shelby and got my own place and went to school at Shelby High School my junior year," Astrauskas said. "I just wanted to move away and get my head right, and learn what it took to be on my own."
Astrauskas lived on his own in Shelby under the watchful eye of close family friends and didn’t play any sports as a junior, and the experience seemed to help him grow. Then this year, he made another decision in that growth process. In November, after football season at Shelby, Astrauskas decided he was ready to come home and face those difficult memories.
Since he was moving back in with his parents, he was able to wrestle for Tri-County this winter. And with a clearer head, he has mat goals again.
"I just felt like I wanted to move back and finish my senior year with friends I grew up with," Astrauskas said. "And I felt I could achieve my goals and excel better at Tri-County. I want to win a state championship."
Astrauskas is off to a great start. He is 12-1, losing his first match of the year Saturday to Kent City's Evan Jones in overtime in the 140-pound final of the Sparta Invitational.
One of his biggest wins this winter was a 5-3 decision over Madison Heights Lamphere's Matt Tomsett – the Division 2 Finals runner-up at 130 pounds last year.
Astrauskas also is doing great in his school work, currently carrying a 3.45 GPA. And Tri-County coach Corey Renner has seen a different person in his wrestling room.
"I think this whole thing has helped him a lot," Renner said. "He's always been a good wrestler, but he was the kid that if you yelled at him to run faster in sprints, he would go slower and end up in last. But this year he is first, he seems to have more focus and is more confident. He has become a leader, he has been good with the young kids. He has come a long way."
Life can be cruel, and for Astrauskas, a lot of cruelty has happened at a young age. But he is taking everything as a positive now, fueling his focus on getting to Ford Field for March 1-2 and this season’s Individual Finals – where he’ll compete to reach the top of the podium.
"To anyone out there going through depression, it does get better," Astrauskas said. "There are other ways to deal with it. Get therapy, support from your friends. You don't need to turn to drugs or alcohol, or even worse. Things will get better."
PHOTOS: (Top) Tanner Astrauskas wrestles Richmond’s Alec Ziza during a consolation first-round match at the 2017 MHSAA Individual Finals. (Middle) Astrauskas, back home at Tri-County, has become a team leader with title aspirations.
Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
March 10, 2023
SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.
That question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”
“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.
It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.
Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.
It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.
“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”
Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.
The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.
“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”
Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.
But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.
Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.
Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.
“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”
Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.
With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.
“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.
Both also learn from each other’s experiences.
“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”
Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”
This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.
With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.
That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.
But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.
With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)