Refusing to kick back and relax through the dog days of summer, a contingent of six local athletes and two coaches heated up the interstate to and from Billings, Mont., where the youths competed in the AAU Grand National Wrestling Championships.
Escorted by Payson High School wrestling coaches Dennis Pirch and Dave LaMotte, entrants in the tournament included Larry Wilbanks, Nate Lee, Garrett Stanley, Zack Lee, Porter Wilbanks and R.C. LaHaye.
It was the first time a Payson team has participated in the AAU Grand Nationals. Traditionally, Rim country grapplers compete on the Wrestling USA Greco-Roman and freestyle circuit.
The tournament, Pirch said, gave the youngsters the opportunity to compete against wrestlers from around the United States.
In the Greco-Roman competition, Larry Wilbanks and Nate Lee wrestled their ways to gold medals. Wilbanks won his in the 105-pound Cadet (15-16 years) classification and Lee was top gun in the 120-pound Novice (11-12 years) group. Payson had two entrants to the 112-pound School Boy (13-14) competition in Garrett Stanley and Zack Lee.
Stanley wrestled his way to a second-place finish and Lee was fourth.
The two eventually met in a head-to-head competition that was won on a pin by Stanley.
R.C. LaHaye, a state champion for Payson High last season, took third place among the 132-pound Elite (15-16) class.
LaHaye, Pirch said, was pitted against some "very good competition", including a set of wrestling brothers who were bound for the University of Nebraska team.
In the 80-pound Novice mat battles, Porter Wilbanks copped a medal, finishing fifth.
The top six in each age/weight group received a medal from AAU officials.
In the freestyle tournament, Nate Lee was the top Rim country finisher, turning in a runner-up showing that included three pins.
Larry Wilbanks and LaHaye were third, Porter Wilbanks sixth.
Stanley and Zack Lee didn't medal but compiled 2-2 records.
The youngsters were able to travel to Montana and compete thanks to a highly profitable fund-raising car wash and barbecue held in June. The benefits not only paid for the expenses of the trip but also went to purchase much-needed equipment.
Pirch said he, LaMotte and youngsters were extremely grateful to all the parents who backed the fledgling wrestlers in their athletic endeavors.
The tournament marks the end of the summer wrestling season.
Competition will not resume until November when the Payson High School Longhorns begin their quest for a fifth consecutive state championship.