From the sports editorial office | Gavel Sets New Standard for Unity Wrestling | Sports
TOLONO – Ben Gavel deserved better.
Yes, senior Unity was able to secure a final high school wrestling season this spring with the Rockets. He didn’t take it for granted (more on that later).
Yet the new all-time leader in wrestling history Unity couldn’t walk the floor at State Farm Center in Champaign for the Great March, the spotlight on his shoulders during the state tournament.
“It was one of the hardest things to get over when we went through this last February,” Gavel said of what would normally be a month filled with playoffs and gunshots to glory in the game. ‘State. “It was the year that I was going to be in the best possible place to go.”
Gavel will always have his place in the history of the Rockets, however. For one of the first wrestling programs in small schools in the region, nothing less.
His 138 career wins – which suit since wrestling 138 pounds in the last two months for the Rockets – is a new Unity record. It eclipses the 137 victories for Juan Molina, who won a Class A state title in 1991 and is the last Rocket to accomplish this remarkable feat.
Gavel set the new standard in a nearly empty gym Wednesday night in Shelbyville during Unity’s final games of the season, more than an hour from his hometown.
“It would have been great if it had happened in Tolono, but I still had my friends and family there,” said Gavel. “I was pretty excited.”
He stopped on his way home for a festive dinner at the Cracker Barrel. And then he started to focus on his next wrestling adventure at the University of Campbellsville, an NAIA program in central Kentucky, where Gavel will compete and major in computer science.
See, Gavel isn’t getting a normal state streak this school year because the IHSA chose not to hold one amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association will be hosting an unofficial state tournament that will not fall under the IHSA banner from June 21-26. But Gavel won’t take part in the competition, choosing instead to focus on training for his next college career.
“For me, I had my youthful years, then I was able to move on to my high school years and now I’m moving on to my college years,” Gavel said. “Everyone is pretty excited to see what I can do.”
He made plenty of them. In a relatively short period of time too.
Gavel didn’t start wrestling until he was 11, falling in love with the sport after watching older brothers Michael and Josh compete. Stepping up to the Illinois Children’s Wrestling Federation state meeting during her first year of involvement in the sport only whetted her appetite for more.
“That’s when I thought I had to stick with it,” he said, “and find out what I could do.”
Here is what he did. Gavel qualified for the State in 2019, then flourished as a junior, going 54-4 to set a new Unity single-season record while placing the State third in the class 1A to 126. The 5ft 6in Gavel progressed all the time. weight categories too, going from 106 in first year to 126 then 138.
Then the pandemic struck. And put all possible thoughts of an even bigger senior season for Gavel on hold.
“It took me about two to three months after the pandemic started to struggle again because I couldn’t get into a room,” said Gavel, who also ran cross country at Unity. “In the middle of my junior year, I started to recognize that I might have a chance to break the record for career wins. It became my only big goal.
Despite all the uncertainty, despite the condensed season that lasted from the end of April to the second week of June and despite not having had the chance to see if he could add a state championship to his accolades in high school, Gavel persevered. It wasn’t always easy. Or fun.
So yeah, Gavel deserved a chance to have a storybook ending his high school career. This did not happen, however. Even with all of the missed opportunities over the past 15 months, the recent high school graduate still has a keen sense of perspective that should resonate with people of all ages.
“One of my philosophies has always been to have fun wrestling,” said Gavel. “Because I’m here to have fun. It has been an incredible race over the past four years to experience all that I have. It is one of the fondest memories of my life. “