If you don’t succeed, try, try, again! Just ask Fairview High School senior Riley Bennett, who is proof positive that practice, true grit and determination can lead to great success.
Last Wednesday, Riley and 11 other Fairview High School wrestlers, who qualified for the TSSAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament, traveled with coaches and parents to Chattanooga to compete in the season-end event.
While the tournament location was new due to COVID-19, the tournament experience was all too familiar to Riley, who entered the Chattanooga Convention Center as a 3-time State runner-up. And he was determined this year the outcome would be different.
“In the previous runs, I came out a little short and it just made me want to be a state champion even more,” said Riley. In preparation for the State Tournament, Riley said he practiced every day and stayed focused.
On a mission last Wednesday, Riley competed in the 145-pound division. Winning by fall over his first opponent to advance to the quarterfinals, Riley met John Pittman of Gibbs on the mat. The two wrestlers matched up well, but Riley proved he was up for the challenge, securing a 6-3 decision in what would be his toughest match of the tournament.
In the semifinals, he faced Brody McLemore from Eagleville. Riley remained in control the entire match, winning takedowns when needed while managing his effort and saving his energy for the championship match.
In his final match, he competed against Josh Parton from Pigeon Forge. Riley was able to secure a few takedowns early before the duo collided on a shot, causing Parton’s nose to bleed. Twice, the match had to be stopped to rewrap Parton’s face. Riley continued to wrestle hard, working an arm bar in and just as he was about to turn Parton to his back, Parton’s father came out of the crowd and onto the mat and forfeited the match for his son.
After four attempts, Riley Bennett earned the coveted 145-pound Class A-AA title as State Champion. “It felt amazing to finally win after four years. I was excited because I have been working for this since I was very young,” said Riley.
He shared, “When I was in eighth grade, I told Coach Bubba that I would win a state championship while he was my coach and to finally achieve that feels so good.”
He acknowledged he has many people to thank for his success. “I want to thank God for giving me the strength and courage through my matches; my coaches for teaching me everything; my parents for being supportive and taking me to tournaments no matter how far away they were; and my girlfriend for being my biggest fan,” said Riley.
He also expressed special thanks to his younger brother Malachi, who has been his practice partner for many years. “He has always been there to pump me up and cheer me on,” said Riley. He also gave a shout out to the Fairview community for all their support during his four-year journey to a State title.
Riley’s parents Jeff and Nicole Bennett were beaming over his success. “We are most proud of his character displayed on and off the mat. He not only earned the State Championship, he was voted Most Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament. Out of over 200 wrestlers to get the Outstanding Wrestler Award is a big deal to us. We are so proud of him!”
Riley led five junior teammates, five sophomore teammates, and one freshman teammate into a very strong A-AA field that featured two nationally-ranked wrestlers and some of the best wrestlers in the state across all divisions.
Sam Frank (106 lbs) was the lone Yellow Jacket freshman to qualify for the State. He won his first two matches and advanced to the semifinals where he dropped his first match to number-one ranked and eventual State Champion Ethan Uhorchuk. Sam fought back to place fourth overall in the state.
Keegan Seaver (120 lbs), a sophomore, pinned his first opponent in :16, but lost a very close 8-6 decision to eventual state finalist Spencer Reep in the quarterfinals. He won his next two matches on the consolation side of the bracket, dropped another match by 2 points, and finished with a win by decision to place fifth in the state.
Jeffrey Anderson (126 lbs), also a sophomore, won his first two matches to advance to the semis where he lost to the eventual State Champion Daniel Uhorchuk. He battled to a 5th/6th placement bout, where he was illegally returned to the mat, knocking him out momentarily and causing him to be wheeled out on a stretcher for further evaluation. Due to the illegal nature of the slam, Jeffrey was awarded the victory and captured a fifth place finish.
Taz Donaldson (195 lbs), a junior, battled his way to a semifinals appearance where he met with his first defeat of the tournament. He won the consolation semifinals before dropping his last match landing him in fourth place.
For the first time in Fairview High School history, the Jackets had four wrestlers earn their way to the State finals. Joining Riley Bennett for that distinction was the following:
Malachi Bennett (160 lbs), a sophomore, won his first three matches with a fall and two major decisions to reach the finals where he squared off with Kodiak Cannedy, a nationally-ranked hammer from Greeneville. Malachi came up a lilttle short in his match, finishing as State runner-up. He is now a two-time State placer after finishing third last year.
Kendrick Curtis (182 lbs), a sophomore, plowed through his first three opponents with two wins by fall and one major decision. He met returning State Champion Noah Hill from Forrest in the finals. Curtis jumped out to an early lead, but eventually lost by an 8-4 decision earning a second place finish. He is also a two-time state placer after finishing fourth last year.
Jacob Clevenger (HWT), a junior, used a combination of speed and strength to pin his first three opponents. In the finals, Jacob had a rematch from the TSSAA State Dual Championships with Mustafi Algarawi from Pigeon Forge, whom he beat with a third period fall. However, history did not repeat itself as Algarawi was able to pull ahead with a late takedown to win 5-4, landing Jacob in second place. He is a three-time State placer after finishing fifth in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Other 2020-2021 Yellow Jacket State qualifiers were: sophomore Josh Helm (113lbs), junior Blake Mitchell (152lbs), junior Marco Pukl (170lbs) and junior Sam Hammon (220lbs).
With the completion of the TSSAA Traditional State Tournament, the Yellow Jackets Wrestling team wrapped up their most successful season to date, winning their first ever State Duals Championship and the school’s first ever TSSAA Team State Championship.
Coach Bubba Derrick and his coaching staff are excited to see what the future holds with 11 returning State qualifiers, including seven returning State placers and three returning State finalists. The future is looking bright with the Jackets poised to win more Dual and Traditional State Championships in the years to come.