By Mike London
SPENCER — Damon Ellis, all 120 pounds of him, wrestled North Rowan’s final match of the 2013 season, and it was Ellis’ victory that lifted the Cavaliers to a team championship in the 1A state tournament.
“In past years, the championship matches have just gone in order from 103 to heavyweight, but this time they had a draw to determine where to start,” North coach Tim Pittman explained. “The 120 match came last, so there was an awful lot riding on Damon’s shoulders. He wasn’t just wrestling for a personal championship – he was wrestling to win one for his team. That says a lot about his character.”
Ellis’ grueling 7-5 decision over Ayden-Grifton’s Brandon Armstrong put North over the top, and it went a long way toward making him the 24th winner of the Dr. Frank “ Dutch” Meyer Award. That selection is made by coaches and carries with it the title of “Rowan County Wrestler of the Year.”
Meyer was a legendary P.E. professor at Catawba from 1969-2005 and coached Catawba’s wrestling team from 1970-83. He died in 2008.
“The honor hit me so fast I haven’t had time to think about it, but to be honest, I didn’t even know there was a wrestling award,” Ellis said. “I just wanted to wrestle. I just wanted to help my team win a championship.”
He did that.
Returning to that pivotal Saturday, March 2, at Greensboro Coliseum — North had to go 3-for-3 in the championship round if it was going to come out on top in a three-way battle with nemesis West Wilkes and eastern power Ayden-Grifton.
Pittman needed Will Robertson (285) and Marc Gonzalez (113) to defend their individual state titles, and they came through. That set the stage for Ellis, and he already knew his opponent well.
“I’d pinned him in the regional,” Ellis said. “But this match was tougher. He (Armstrong) was really trying to win for his team too.”
It was 3-2 entering the third round, but Ellis got a reversal for the pivotal points.
Local teams won WNCHSAA championships, but this was only the third time a Rowan school won a state tournament — the other wins were by Salisbury Boyden in 1942 and 1966.
Ellis finished his season 45-3, and the senior completed his prep career with a 27-match winning streak. His last setback came in the King of the Mat Christmas Tournament at North Davidson. Actually, he lost twice in that elite event.
“Damon was disappointed, and he came up to me and said he wouldn’t lose again,” Pittman said. “He didn’t.”
Ellis started his sports career as a soccer player, but then he made a switch to the mat in the eighth grade.
“I got myself started, really,” Ellis said. “I just wanted to see if I could do it, and then I started having some success. I really like to win, so I started working harder and harder at it, doing things like staying to learn more after practice.”
North has been blessed with a number of fine wrestlers in the smaller weight classes in recent years. Ellis shined at 113 as a sophomore and was a state qualifier at 126 as a junior before making that last giant leap this year at 120.
“Damon is a great athlete,” Pittman said. “He’s very quick and strong and very determined. He really wants to win, and he sets his mind to win. There were days when he walked in to a match with a look in his eyes that said no one could beat him.”
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