For the Alcovy Tigers, there was more at stake during this past Tuesday’s Newton Cup action than simply trying to repeat as champion.
As far as that goes, Alcovy came up short, as the Eastside Eagles edged them in the round robin style meet’s finale match. But Tigers’ coach William Wells saw his team display an act of kindness on one of its seniors that showed that it was about more than just wins and losses for them.
During Alcovy’s senior night festivities which took place during an intermission Tuesday night, the team called for senior Vance Lewis to come to the center of the mat.
Lewis was in street clothes, while the rest of his team was donning their wrestling uniforms. He was sporting a black sling across his left arm and shoulder, unable to compete due to a torn labrum. But it was clear that the Tigers wanted to make sure Lewis knew he was still just as valuable to the team in injury as when on the mat in competition.
So they presented him with a black and gold coach’s jacket. And Wells said it was a fitting gesture for the kind of impact Lewis has had on Alcovy wrestling.
“Vance was our lead captain, and kind of like the glue who held these boys together,” Wells said. “He’s kind of the one who pushes the pace for the boys. He trains hard in the offseason. He’s a highly motivated individual. The boys cling to him, so when we lost him, it was a big blow to the morale of the team.”
Lewis said he first experienced the injury last year when he was hurt by “an illegal slam.”
“And that just kind of set it in motion,” he said. “I went through rehab and stuff, and then I ended up dislocating my shoulder again. I didn’t think it was a huge deal, but then last month, in November, it popped out again. I went to Georgia Orthopedics and they said the labrum was torn.”
It wasn’t just a blow to the team. The re-aggravated injury also applied a stiff body blow to his dreams of wrestling in college. Lewis went 43-9 as a junior, despite his injuries, and was close to being a state placer. Needlessly to say, hopes were high for his senior campaign.
“Last year I was looking at placing, and after the schools went through re-classification and some guys moved up to 7A, I felt it was a good chance for me to win the whole thing,” Lewis said.
His November set back ended those hopes, but not his passion for seeing Alcovy wrestling succeed.
“One of the things that has stuck with me is that my team comes before myself,” Lewis said. “And if it came down to choosing between me or my team, it’s always gonna be my team. Even though it breaks my heart because I wanna do it so bad and be there so bad, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for any of those guys.”
That’s why the accolades given to him from his teammates mean so much – not just to Lewis, but also to his coach, who insists the presentation of the coach’s jacket was not just an empty gesture.
“Vance has stepped in as a leader to them in a different way,” Wells said. “Almost as a coach. I’m happy for him, but I know it’s hard for him emotionally because being out here on the mat is something he wants to be a part of.”
But Lewis knows he’s still very much apart, even if it’s not in the way he originally planned.
He keeps himself busy by working the scorer’s table at matches, helping the team managers with their tasks or even trying to tutor the freshmen and sophomore up-and-comers. That’s because Lewis said he’s learned that wrestling is so much bigger to him than state placement and championships or even college scholarships.
“(Wrestling in college) could maybe still be a possibility,” Lewis said. “It all depends on what the doctors say. But, when this all happened, I said that maybe this is God’s way of giving me something else. So whether a wrestler here is state placer material or not, whatever, wrestling is a sport where you allow it to make you a better man. That’s what coach Wells and all the other coaches around here put into me. That’s what I want to put into these guys too.”