Joe Medley: Last-second loss stinks, but Wellborn’s Pitts will be back
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Feb 15, 2014 | 2211 views |  0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wellborn’s Speed Pitts, right, lost by a point in Saturday’s 145-pound final in Class 1A-4A. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Wellborn’s Speed Pitts, right, lost by a point in Saturday’s 145-pound final in Class 1A-4A. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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HUNTSVILLE — For Speed Pitts, the medal stand at the state wrestling championships was no happy place Saturday. He hoped it would be, but the medal ceremony couldn’t get here and gone quickly enough.

It was bad enough his opponent in the Class 1A-4A 145-pound final was waiting next to him, in the elevated middle stand reserved for the winner. Pitts had beaten Lincoln’s Jamario Howard in their other two meetings this season.

Worse, Pitts had several minutes on the runner-up’s stand to mentally replay the final six seconds of his third match with Howard — six seconds in which Pitts went from a state champion to a runner-up in his first varsity season.

Pitts laid on the covered, wooden platform, his arms over his head.

Then the Wellborn sophomore sat up, only to hear an AHSAA official tell him to remove his toboggan. Why not one more indignity?

Finally, a match on the other end of the Von Braun Center, on the very mat where Pitts had just lost in wrestling’s version of a buzzer-beater, ended. Medal ceremonies for Pitts’ weight class and two others could begin.

After posing for pictures, Pitts eagerly hopped down and spoke his mind.

“This wasn’t the medal I was wanting,” he said, as he held out the still-cased medal.

Then again, he’ll handle this setback differently than he handled the setback that delayed his varsity career by three years.

“I’m going to go to work — Monday, whenever,” he said. “I’m going to take me a little break to get me through this weekend, but as soon as I can get back on the wrestling mat, I’m going to do it and get ready for next year.”

After Pitts came within a last-second takedown of a state championship in his first varsity season, it’s hard not to wonder how many happier medal-stand moments he could have had already. What if all of this started in his seventh-grade year?

He had wrestled up to that point.

“He wrestled years all the way up,” said Todd Manning, in his first year back at Wellborn. “They traveled the country, going to youth tournaments and everything else.”

Pitts came out for Wellborn’s team as a seventh-grader. His version of what happened?

“I had a wrestle-off with one of our varsity guys, and I beat him in the wrestle-off, and our coach wouldn’t give me the spot,” Pitts said. “When he didn’t give me the spot, it kind of made me mad, and I said I didn’t want to wrestle for Wellborn again.”

So, from seventh grade through his freshman year, Pitts didn’t wrestle. As he describes it, “I just sat around and gained weight and got out of shape,” he said.

That held until his sophomore year.

A coaching change at Wellborn “definitely” had something to do his coming back out for wrestling, Pitts said. More than anything, he missed the sport.

“It’s the greatest sport in the world, and I just missed it, man,” he said. “Nobody really persuaded me — I just missed it. Something told me I should go back out there and do it again.

“It was just kind of boring. I just wanted to get back out here and make a name for myself and do something successful, not sit around and just be lazy and be known as the guy who sat around in life doing nothing.”

Pitts’ second crack at varsity wrestling was a success, right up to the final second of his sophomore season. He carried a 41-9 record into Saturday’s final.

“He was a little rusty, but he just stepped right back into it,” Manning said. “He’s the captain of the team, the leader of the team, and he’s the future of the team.”

The future looked like now, right up to the final seconds against Howard on Saturday.

Pitts led 3-2. Howard’s only chance was a takedown.

They started in the center circle and worked their way out, right in front of Lincoln coach Brian Kelley and assistant Joe McCarson, who once coached at Wellborn. With one second left on the clock, Howard got his takedown and won 4-3.

Pitts was beside himself. With anguish on his face, he pulled the top of his singlet down and disappeared down an exit.

“It was like all of my hard work was taken away from me,” he said.

It was a bitter disappointment, not unlike the one he felt as a seventh-grader. He’ll handle this one differently.

“They say once you wrestle, everything else in life is easier,” he said. “That’s the truth.”

Manning said he expects to see Pitts in the middle of the medal stand a year from now, a lot more glad to be there.

“He has the potential, now, to be a two-time state champion,” Manning said. “He’s going to work his tail off in the offseason, and he’s going to come back next year and win a state championship.”

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter, @jmedley_star.
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