By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
EAST GRAND RAPIDS – Over the past three weeks, John Shelton IV has established a new school record for wrestling wins while also reaching a rare milestone with his 150th career victory.
While most would be elated and content, the East Grand Rapids senior wants more and has his sights set on an even bigger goal.
“To be honest, it was a stepping stone for me, and it wasn’t that big of a deal because I’m trying to win a state title,” Shelton IV said. “It’s a cool accomplishment in the sport, but I would rather have a state championship. That’s what I really want, and it is the biggest milestone I can get right now.”
Shelton IV, who wrestles at 189 and 215 pounds, is a three-time MHSAA Finals qualifier. However, an individual championship at that highest level has eluded him.
He came close last season, reaching the Division 2 championship match at 189 pounds before losing a tightly-contested bout against Cedar Springs’ Sage Serbenta.
“Last year I was pretty confident that no one could beat me, but there is always someone out there that can give you a good battle and he gave me a good battle,” Shelton IV said. “I guess I wasn’t really battle-tested and I wasn’t ready for the match. You can’t get complacent and I got complacent, I feel like, toward the end of the year.”
Shelton IV notched his 100th win early in his junior season and surpassed the previous school record of 147 wins, set by Doug Dozeman.
“Obviously for a kid to hit 150 wins is unbelievable, and I grew up in Illinois where 150 wins is unheard of,” East Grand Rapids wrestling coach Eric Dietz said. “And just to do it at the weights he has done it at. Most kids get a lot of wins wrestling at the lighter weights as freshmen and sophomores, but he came in right away wrestling 18-year-olds as a 14-year-old.”
The loss in last year’s Final didn’t sit well with Shelton IV, but it has fueled his motivation both physically and mentally.
“He took it hard, as it would anybody whose goal it is to win a state title,” Dietz said. “Getting there and losing by a takedown ate at him over the offseason more and more, and in the weight room he seemed more focused to go out and secure that goal. The 150 wins was just something on his way to achieving his goal.”
Shelton IV won tournaments at the state and national level while in middle school, but said the ultimate cap to his high school career would be an MHSAA Finals crown.
“It’s the most motivation I’ve had. And if I don’t win it, it wouldn’t necessarily be a failure, but I’ve dreamed about it since I started wrestling in high school and I really want to accomplish it,” he said. “My life has revolved around sports, and I think a state championship is the best thing you can do in high school – so that’s what I want to do.”
Shelton IV is 25-0 this season, with the first rounds of the MHSAA Tournament looming next month.
“I wish I would’ve wrestled more ranked guys and had more competition to get ready for the postseason, but I think I’ve wrestled pretty well,” Shelton IV said. “There’s always room for improvement, though.”
Shelton IV will take his talents to Central Michigan University, where he will wrestle and also play football.
He led the Pioneers to the Regional Finals in football and rushed for 1,661 yards while scoring a team-high 25 touchdowns.
Shelton IV wanted the opportunity to play two sports in college.
“I thought I was skilled enough to play both in college, but I didn’t know how I would balance it,” he said. “I know it’s going to be tough, and I thought it would be in football and baseball. I didn’t think it would be football and wrestling.”
Shelton IV suffered a knee injury during baseball season and didn’t continue. He’s looking forward to wrestling under the same coach as his dad did in high school.
John Shelton III wrestled for the Chippewas and longtime coach Tom Borrelli. Shelton III won a Mid-American Conference championship in 1995.
“I like the school a lot and my dad told me great things about Coach,” Shelton IV said. “I think he can really help me get to my full potential, and I have a lot of buddies there.
“I think I’ll be able to get comfortable there really quickly, and I’m really excited to compete against guys around the country and not just my state.”
Shelton committed for football during the early signing period, although he’d had his doubts after the Chippewas went 1-11 two years ago.
Central Michigan experienced a turnaround, however, this past fall under first-year coach Jim McElwain and finished 8-6 en route to a spot in the MAC championship game and a bowl berth.
“I’m really excited to go there now and play for McElwain,” Shelton IV said. “They had a good season, and who doesn’t like being around a winning team?”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids’ John Shelton IV shows his excitement after a semifinal win during last season’s MHSAA Individual Finals at Ford Field. (Middle) Shelton breaks away from the Forest Hills Northern defense during his junior season. (Top photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com; middle courtesy of the East Grand Rapids athletic department.)
KALAMAZOO – There’s nothing quite like the roar of a crowd after your team has clinched an MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals title.
That’s true whether it’s for title No. 1, or, in the case of Casey Engle and his Lowell teammates Saturday, for their program’s 11th-straight Division 2 championship.
“It’s unreal,” Engle said. “It’s something I look forward to every year.”
Lowell extended its record run of wrestling team titles by defeating Freeland 49-21 in the Division 2 Final at Wings Events Center.
The Red Arrows joined the Grosse Pointe South (1976-86) and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (1980-90) girls tennis programs in winning 11 straight Finals titles. Only East Grand Rapids boys swimming & diving, winning 15 straight from 1948-62, and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice boys lacrosse – with 13 straight from 2005-17 – have longer Finals championship streaks in Lower Peninsula or statewide competition.
“I mean, it’s possible (to reach 15),” said sophomore Jarrett Smith, whose pin at 106 pounds clinched the title. “It’s hard to predict that far, four years into the future. We’re losing some key guys, but we graduated 14 last year, five this year, so we’re returning some firepower.”
Lowell is always returning firepower, and it’s consistently adding it, too, giving new waves of Red Arrows the chance to raise a wooden mitten.
That’s why for coach RJ Boudro, each title remains just as sweet as the last.
“Why would it get old?” said Boudro, who has been in charge for 10 of those titles. “Look at the crowd. When I first walked in here, I looked up, and you see that we have more fans here than anybody else, and that’s what it’s about. Next year will be fun, too. When you can still bring crowds in and you can do it 11 years in a row, there’s more to that than just winning. If it was just about winning, why else would they come? They would probably think it was a foregone conclusion. They love the kids; they love the community.”
One could forgive an outsider for believing it’s a foregone conclusion when Lowell takes the mat for the Division 2 postseason, as it’s won the Final by more than 20 points in each of the past five seasons and in seven of its 11 straight championship victories.
So to avoid that feeling creeping into his wrestling room, Boudro makes it clear the Red Arrows’ responsibility isn’t just to win on the mat, but to strive for something bigger.
“We’re not doing it to just win state championships,” Boudro said. “We’re trying to find out who we are, we’re trying to be better men, better women, better coaches. So, it’s not just about winning, it’s about being a better person. Whether I’m a coach or a kid, just trying to find a way to be better. When you’re doing that all the time, you get better, but you feel like you have a purpose. Every single guy on the team feels like they have a purpose, and that’s really important.”
Just 14 wrestlers can step onto the mat in a single dual, and the same number is the max a team can enter into the individual postseason, so accomplishing that can sometimes be as tough as anything else for Lowell wrestlers, and certainly helps motivate them throughout the season – foregone conclusions or not.
“One of our signs up there I saw, it says, ‘Tradition never graduates,’ and it’s true,” Smith said. “We just keep the kids coming. Even our B Team, C Team are competing at the highest level. At the beginning of Districts, we had 17 ranked guys, and you can only send 14. So we have just great partners all around.”
Freeland, meanwhile, was making its first appearance in a Final, after getting to the Quarterfinals for the third time in program history.
“Outstanding. Outstanding. They’ve been giving their all every match,” Freeland coach Scott VanLuven said. “They’ve been doing it all year. We beat Brighton, we weren’t supposed to. We beat (Bay City) John Glenn in our conference, then we had to beat them again in our District Final when we weren’t supposed to. No one gave us really a chance down here, I think. But they believed, and they did well.”
The Falcons (25-3) still had a shot with three matches to go, trailing 31-21. But Smith put a quick end to that with his pin at 106, and that was followed by a pair of pins from Cole and Carter Cichocki at 113 and 120, respectively.
Of the Arrows’ nine wins in the dual, eight came by either pin or technical fall, as Jackson Blum (138), Jared Boone (165) and Engle (190) also won by pinfall. Logan Dawson (132) and Owen Segorski (144) each won by tech. Cody Foss (126) opened the dual with a win by decision for Lowell (22-3).
Fabian Facundo (150) and Bringham Smith (285) each won by pin for Freeland, while Noah Graham (157), Gibson Shepard (175) and Elijah Murphy (215) all won by decision.
PHOTOS (Top) Lowell’s Cole Cichocki, left, lines up against Freeland’s Michael Wilson at 113 pounds Saturday. (Middle) The Falcons’ Elijah Murphy, left, locks up Lowell’s Ari McFarland at 215. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)