Crespo Enjoys Moment, on to Next Goals
March 13, 2020
By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
A single afternoon in middle school set Skyler Crespo down a path that would lead to four Individual Finals wrestling championships. It was the day he quit the sport.
The withdrawal was brief — only hours, really — but it happened. He ripped his headgear off and stormed out of the practice room, claiming he was done.
And for anyone who knows the Mendon senior, who is less than a week removed from becoming the 28th grappler in Michigan High School Athletic Association history to pull off the rare four-peat, it’s hard to believe.
In a combat sport where confidence is crucial, Crespo certainly hasn’t lacked any since his freshman year. He doesn’t dispute that he’s brash at times, nor does he have any desire to soften his image. After all, the approach he’s used has served him well.
Perhaps it’s because Crespo, who is slated to wrestle at Michigan State University next year, knows how it feels to be utterly humbled – and that he never wants to experience it again. That happened six years ago. And it broke him. It was an experiment conducted by Mendon head coach Caleb Stephenson, who wanted to see what the seventh grader was made of at the time.
Stephenson had two of the program’s top varsity wrestlers, Jonah Grimm and Caleb Hinkle, take turns lighting 90-pound Crespo up. In the past, these mismatched sessions were tame. This time around, Stephenson instructed his accomplished veterans, who had 40 pounds on the youngster, to show no mercy.
“I remember it vividly,” Stephenson said. “It was brutal, man. He cried and he was mentally hurting. To this day, I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do. But I felt he was ready.”
Each time Crespo was taken down, which was often, Stephenson yelled out the increasingly lopsided score. It got ugly.
“From there, we just kind of built him back up,” Stephenson said. “It was a tear-him-down-build-him-up kind of thing. I can remember (Grimm and Hinkle) looking at me like, ‘Is this ok? Are you sure you want us to just go pound this kid again? And the answer was yes. It might have been after that moment that there was real trust. We had a special bond that fostered his great career and a friendship. It has been amazing.”
“There were a lot of times I wanted to quit and didn’t want to practice anymore,” Crespo admitted. “I give a lot of credit to Caleb to make sure I was always on the right track, doing the right things and always pushing me. And, obviously, my parents didn’t let me quit.”
Two years later, Grimm and Hinkle were at The Palace of Auburn Hills when Crespo won his first Division 4 Finals championship at 125 pounds as a freshman.
It was the culmination of a year where there were several signals that Crespo had what it took to make history.
“I don’t think people realize how difficult it was his freshman year to win,” Stephenson said. “He had to go through the state runner-up in the District Final, the returning state champ in the Regional Final and the same kid again in the state Finals — a three-time finalist. Bursting on the scene is exactly what he did, and that’s what we expected him to do.”
Behind the scenes, Crespo put in the work. Stephenson said he could count on one hand how many times Crespo missed an offseason workout over seven years.
“He was always the one in the room with me,” Stephenson said. “He was the stalwart. He was the backbone. He was the kid that always said yes.”
Winning a 135-pound title as a sophomore, a 4-2 decision over Onaway’s Matthew Grant, got everyone’s attention, but the whispers from doubters ended up being louder to Crespo than the cheers.
“I always kind of had a chip on my shoulder,” Crespo said. “I never thought I got as much respect as I deserved. I always had the mentality that people didn’t believe in me, and I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I used that swagger to help me wrestle better.”
As a junior, he closed out the season with a dominating performance in the 140-pound finals with a 13-0 major decision against Bad Axe’s Ryan Wehner. Last week, Crespo completed his mission with an 11-0 major decision versus Clinton’s Kent McCombs in the 145-pound championship match. During his last two championship runs, Crespo bonused his way through the MHSAA Tournament.
“The more I think about it, the more I can appreciate it,” said Crespo, who finished his high school career with a 211-5 record, a couple of days after the MHSAA Finals. “Anything less than four was going to be a disappointment.”
“Hopefully it creates a standard for people. I think people don’t realize how good of a coach Caleb Stephenson is, really, and how much credit he deserves in all this. I’ll remember the relationship we have as people, not just because of wrestling. He’s just a genuine and good person.”
Even though Crespo fully expected to accomplish his goal, when it happened, it was a bit surreal as he celebrated with his family who had sacrificed a lot to help him get there, and the coaches who had ridden the emotional ride with him.
“It felt pretty good,” Crespo said. “I got to finally relax and feel a little satisfied, I guess.”
“It was really emotional,” Stephenson said. I can’t fathom how special it is. I don’t even know how to explain it to others. This kid has taken me on a really amazing journey. I’m appreciative to him for that. There are only 28 coaches who have gotten to do this, too. I feel special to have been with him. Skyler listened to everything. He soaked it all in. He is incredible like that, and it’s going to be profitable for him at the next level, too.”
A couple of days later, though, Crespo was back to being, well, Crespo, with new goals concerning the BIG Ten and NCAA.
“He texted me (Tuesday) and said, ‘I’m not satisfied,’” Stephenson said. “That’s just who he is.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Mendon's Skyler Crespo takes control during his semifinal win over Leslie's Grant Weber. (Middle) Crespo leads wrestlers onto the Ford Field mats as one of the flag bearers at the Individual Finals. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)