Austin Middleton saw a fellow high school wrestler from another team suited up in a singlet looking like he wanted a match, like he wanted to compete.
So Austin gave him the chance.
In an act observers called true sportsmanship, Austin invited the wrestler with Down syndrome to hit the mat, complete with a ref, during a break at a district tournament this weekend in York. For Grant Fehlhafer, a member of the Seward High School team, it was his first match.
A video of the spontaneous exhibition match has drawn a lot of attention on social media, with one Facebook post generating nearly 1,000 shares.
Austin, a senior at Ralston High, didn’t qualify for state, so his match against Grant was the final one of his high school career.
Grant’s mom, Caroline Fehlhafer, said Austin showed kindness, compassion and character.
“He is an amazing kid to do that for my son,” she said. “That was a very big moment for (my son). Everyone in that room knew what that meant. It meant he was embraced for who he was — a wrestler.”
The match occurred Saturday at York High School during the class B-1 district tournament, where wrestlers competed for a slot in the state wrestling tournament, which starts this week in Omaha. More than 100 athletes and coaches gathered around when Austin and Grant hit the mat.
Grant, 15, is in a wrestling family. His father wrestled in high school. His cousins are wrestlers. And Grant has watched many high school and college matches over the years. His mother said he is passionate about the sport.
Bob Core, Seward’s wrestling coach, said Grant practices with the team and has learned takedowns and other moves. But he had never wrestled competitively.
He said Grant is an upbeat kid who loves the sport and doesn’t want practice to end.
He attends nearly all his school’s meets and roots for his teammates.
Austin walked up to an assistant coach for Seward on Saturday and asked if Grant wanted to wrestle. The assistant asked Grant, and the teen didn’t hesitate.
The two athletes started with a handshake, and began to grapple. Within 30 seconds Grant had the larger and more experienced Austin on his back. The ref slapped the mat, and Grant had recorded a pin.
Austin said he was happy to deliver the win to Grant.
Austin, who also played football at Ralston High, said he loves the whole atmosphere of high school sports and could tell Grant did as well. He said he wanted Grant to “have a special moment.”
When the match ended, Grant jumped to his feet, clapped his hands and jumped up and down with excitement.
The two athletes shook hands, the crowd roared and Austin lifted Grant’s arm into the air in victory.