Three Payson teenagers wrestled their way to All-American honors at the National High School Coaches Association National Championship tournament June 28 to July 3 in Virginia Beach, Va.
Nathan Lee, Larry Wilbanks and Porter Wilbanks were the grapplers who attained the prestigious All-American tags by placing among the top-eight in their respective age/weight divisions.
Tyler Goodman and Mark McCarty also represented Payson in the national showdown that drew more than 1,300 wrestlers from 43 states.
Lee turned in the Rim crew's best finish -- second-place showing in the 171-pound high school division. He compiled a 5-1 record losing only to a New Jersey state champion in the finals.
"Nathan wrestled some very tough competition," new PHS wrestling coach Rich Ormand said. "All of his opponents were state champs or state placers."
At the 2002 NHSCA edition of the national tournament, Lee won the weight division championship.
Larry Wilbanks, a star on the Payson High School team last season, compiled a 6-1 record to finish third in the 160-pound high school division. He opened the tournament against a highly regarded South Carolina state placer. During the course of the tournament, he defeated state champions from two other states.
Porter Wilbanks, a Rim Country Middle School White Mountain League champion last year, compiled a 5-3 record to finish sixth in the 112-pound middle school/junior high division.
After losing his first match to the eventual national champion, Wilbanks strung together five consecutive victories to stay alive in the tournament. In the medal rounds, he lost two consecutive matches to fall to sixth overall.
McCarty, also a WML champion for RCMS last season, finished 2-2 in the middle school 135-pound division.
"Mark wrestled extremely well," Ormand said. "Both of his losses were extremely close and were to kids who were going to be sophomores next school year."
According to former PHS coach Dave LaMotte, McCarty was forced to wrestle older grapplers because the tournament format places the participants in the school division they were last year. Freshmen are aligned in the middle school/ junior high group with seventh- and eighth-graders.
Also, both of McCarty's defeats were to wrestlers who went on in the tournament to earn All-American status.
Goodman finished with an 0-2 record partly due to his bad luck in the pre-tournament draw.
"If the brackets were seeded instead of randomly drawn, he possibly would have fared a little better," Ormand said. "He was in the tough part of the bracket."
Both of Goodman's losses were by points to eventual tournament All-Americans.
According to Ormand, one of the benefits of participating in the tournament was the exposure the boys gained showcasing their skills in front of more than 50 college recruiters that were present.
"Their feats (three All-Americans) spoke loudly to the college recruiters and helped keep Payson wrestling in their minds for possible future recruits," he said.
The tournament culminated the off-season for the young wrestlers. Some are expected to turn their attention to the gridiron when preseason practices kickoff July 28 for the high school program. RCMS football practices will begin a week later.