By Jake Thompson
INDIANAPOLIS — The journey between a wrestling coach and grappler is a long arduous one for each person involved, especially if the latter is talented. The hours put in to become not only good, but great, can take a toll on both as they search to become without equal, working in unison to perfect their relationship and skills to bring out the very best in one another.
That relationship becomes a double-edged sword when the pair is related, especially at such a developmental age as the high school level.
For Ben Davis coach Aaron Moss and his son Levi, their high school journey together as coach and grappler effectively came to an end last Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Levi finished his career as a Giant with a fifth-place finish at the 75th annual IHSAA Wrestling State Finals.
“I mean, I couldn’t be more proud as a father,” Aaron said as a tear rolled down his right cheek. “What a great career. Being dad and coach, it’s been such a roller coaster of ups and downs at times.”
Levi leaves high school as a four-time state qualifier and three-time state placer, along with being a four-time Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference champion and the winningest wrestler in Ben Davis history.
But Levi didn’t get the fairytale ending, by walking away as a state champion. Although undefeated throughout this season, he suffered an ankle injury at the semistate competition that certainly affected his chances at a state title.
After winning his opening match 1-0 on Friday night, Levi lost 5-3 in his first match on Saturday, forcing him into the wrestlebacks.
“We knew it was going to be a gut check and after his loss, that was tough,” Aaron said.
From there, Levi had a choice: pack it in or wrestle with tenaciousness and grit. A year earlier, he may have chose to shut it down, but not this season.
Something was different.
“To see him grow up and come out and compete with one ankle and hold himself; it’s how you win and lose,” Aaron said. “He had to have some dignity. It’s really tough to come back (after a loss) and wrestle tough, let alone when you’re injured. That’s a tough thing to ask him to do.”
Down 2-5 in the final period of his first wrestleback match, Levi overcame that deficit, fighting through his emotions on the mat to win 8-6 in the last 30 seconds.
“The cool thing was I had a vision of what the right way to win a state title is,” Aaron said. “He kind of bucked that for a while. Then, this year, he decided he would be the hardest worker, start dominating. He really started separating himself and doing all the right things. It might not have been a state title, it might not have been under the lights, but golly he figured it out. That’s what counts.”
Levi said he understands where his dad was coming from but admits it took him awhile.
“At the beginning, it was kind of tough because I was naive and thought I knew it all, but toward the end I started soaking up what he had to say,” Levi said. “He really pushed me and I really think he’s mainly the one who helped me peak at my goal and peak at the right time this year. It’s just been amazing having him by my side the whole time. Not too many people get that opportunity.”
After that win, Levi went out and took fifth with a convincing 7-0 decision and wrapped up his season and career as a Giant.
“It’s been surreal,” Levi said. “It comes and goes so fast but while you’re here there’s nothing better. There’s nothing like wrestling down here. It’s amazing. Now that it’s over, it’s finally starting to set in that I had a great run.”
Ben Davis also sent Norman Oglesby down to the state finals, but like Levi, he was battling his own injury issues heading into the finals.
“Ben Davis had a rough week,” Aaron said. “Norman was sick all last weekend with a fever and came in Monday coughing up blood. We took him to the doctor and he had pretty bad bronchitis. He did not practice all week and his match was the first time he stepped on the mat this week. It was the weirdest state week I’ve ever had.”
Oglesby lost in his opener, 3-1, but as a sophomore has two more years to improve his skill set.
“Definitely not Norman and he is obviously disappointed because we felt like we were a top four kid,” Aaron said. “On a healthy day, we would have been top eight or close to that. The great thing is, Norman is only going to get better. He’s growing into the sport and is new to it. He’ll be back and we’re excited about that.”