Prep wrestling: East Rowan's Shaffer wins Meyer Award
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — As a seventh-grader, Kory Shaffer wasn’t a bad kid, but he was searching for direction.
That’s when the East Rowan senior discovered wrestling. Or maybe wrestling discovered him.
“My dad passed away when I was a fifth-grader,” Shaffer said. “I had all this stress inside me, and I needed to find something. I needed to find it pretty bad.”
After humble beginnings, Shaffer’s talent and work ethic took hold. By eighth grade, he was starting every match.
At East, he’s been pushed by tenacious teammates and molded by caring coaches into something special. He was 32-3 this season and placed third at 135 pounds in the 3A state tournament.
Veteran East head coach Barry Justus, who logged his 300th win in January, had the honor of informing Shaffer he was this school year’s Dutch Meyer Award winner as the county’s top wrestler. He’s East’s first winner since Hunter Land in 2002.
“That blew my mind,” Shaffer said. “Credit my coaches. It’s been a heck of a four years. They never gave up on me.”
Besides Justus, Shaffer lauded assistants Danny Misenheimer, quite a wrestler for the Mustangs in his day, and Scott Swain.
“Coach Justus was always there for me, I learned so much from Coach Misenheimer, and Coach Swain always kept my head straight,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer isn’t tall, but he’s built like a fullback. He was a 103-pound eighth-grader. Since then he’s inched up in weight class every year, and he’s sustained success.
“Besides being a worker, Kory has a high distaste for losing, and he will compete for all six minutes of a match,” Justus said. “That makes him very dangerous. As long as there’s time on the clock, Kory is dangerous.”
Shaffer’s emotional affair with wrestling is mostly love, but that affection is tinged with a little bit of hate.
The rewards are great, but sacrifices are necessary to wrestle at a high level. He could easily carry 150 pounds, but he hovered all year between 132 and 135.
“I love it, but wrestling is work, really hard work,” he said. “This has to be the hardest sport — working out, cutting weight, not eating.”
Shaffer’s sweat paid off as a freshman. Competing at 112, he reached the regional level and was an ounce of experience away from qualifying for the state event.
An appendectomy derailed his sophomore year, but he placed third in the regional as a 125-pound junior and made his state-tournament debut. He finished a respectable eighth.
“The thing I learned was no one sucks at state,” Shaffer said. “No one.”
Things fell into place this season. Shaffer won the Ashbrook Invitational. Then he won the Rowan County Tournament for the first time.
He suffered a midseason concussion, but it didn’t keep him off the mat long. Eventually, he won his second NPC crown, a perfect springboard into postseason competition.
A solid second-place finish in the regional was Shaffer’s ticket back to the state tournament in Greensboro. He entered that star-studded event ranked eighth in 3A.
No one sucks at state, and he found himself grappling for survival in his first match on opening day against fifth-ranked Chris Rubinosky of Union Pines. It lasted three overtimes before Shaffer prevailed 7-5.
Shaffer dropped his next match — a 10-8 scrap with third-ranked Ian Martin of St. Stephens. That ended his gold-medal dream and put him on a long road of consolations, hoping for bronze.
“Ian’s an awesome wrestler, but I was so mad at myself,” Shaffer said. “My dad would’ve been mad at me because I kind of gave up those last 10 seconds.”
Shaffer rebounded from despair to post a 3-0 victory against Concord’s Michael McGinnis.
Next came the signature match of his career.
He’ll never forget Mat No. 7. It was the fourth of his six state matches. His opponent: Western Harnett’s Michael Zak.
“I didn’t know him, just knew he was from a long way off, somewhere out east,” Shaffer. “I do know he was a heck of a wrestler.”
Zak’s reversal and a stall call had Shaffer behind 3-0 when there was a fortunate clock stoppage for blood with 16 seconds left. Shaffer fought back tears as he trudged over to apologize to his coaches. He’d let them down, and this figured to be their final conversation.
“You’re going to be mad at me if I lose, aren’t you?” Shaffer blurted.
Justus’ calm response was that he wasn’t upset — and Shaffer wasn’t going to lose.
He sent him back to the mat with a plan and a belief that he could execute it.
Shaffer was in the bottom position. The whistle blew.
Always dangerous, Shaffer escaped with 10 seconds left. Now it was 3-1.
“Then I rushed right him,” Shaffer explained. “I missed a throw, but then I caught him, and he was down.”
Two points for a takedown, swiftly followed by two more points for forcing Zak onto his back. Shaffer was a miraculous 5-3 winner and still moving forward.
It was exhilarating, but it didn’t get any easier.
Shaffer’s next foe was Chapel Hill’s Peter Dreher. Dreher was ranked second in 3A and would finish at 45-10.
“I saw his match with the state champ (Hibriten’s Scott Hardiman), and he looked awesome,” Shaffer said. “But I beat him pretty good. I had a really good match.”
The final was 5-2.
Now Shaffer was wrestling for third place in his final match for East and maybe ever. In the everything-happens-for-a reason category, it was a rematch against Martin, who edged him in the second round.
“It was just a dramatic match, off and on, back and forth,” Shaffer said. “This time I didn’t let up, not for one second.”
A good thing. He won 9-8.
The NCHSAA record book will always claim Shaffer finished third in 3A at 135 in 2011, but Justus regards him as a champion’s champion.
“A special young’un,” Justus said. “He’ll be missed extremely by our program.”
Shaffer isn’t sure he’ll return to the mat. He enjoys welding and working on motors, but his dream is to earn a business degree.
“I’m not the dumbest or the smartest,” he said. “Coach says there are schools where I can go wrestle, but I probably need to concentrate on schoolwork to be successful in college.”
As far as wrestling success, the Meyer Award and that magnificent run in the state tournament says it all.
“Everyone there was taller than me and bigger than me and stronger than me, but I was third,” Shaffer said. “That feeling I had standing on the podium is something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”