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Tuesday, December 09, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
High School Sports
By Mason Kelley
Dinner is over and Rick Ward and his son, Bj, settle on the couch in front of the TV.
When Rick asks his son how his day went, Bj not only tells him, he shows him, with a swift display of his latest wrestling move that makes his dad sorry he asked.
All it takes is a grab of the arm or a playful shove and the living room becomes a wrestling clinic. In years past, Rick may have been able to show his son a hold or two, but these days, the teacher has become the student. Bj, a senior at Liberty High School, after all, is the defending Class 3A state champion at 140 pounds.
"We just have a habit of doing it," Rick Ward said of the evening matches. "They are very playful matches, we just show each other some moves. It is a little more than that, but we don't go full out."
Muriel Ward, Bj's mother, plays referee in these household matches, trying to protect the TV and furniture.
"It is a daily thing, always after dinner and these days it's dad getting beat up," Muriel said of the nightly wrestling matches. "I always tell them that, 'If you break the furniture I get to go out and buy new furniture.' "
All the living-room wrestling has turned Bj Ward into a contact junkie. The more physical the sport the better. In the fall it is football, then wrestling, and in the spring, rugby. All of those contact sports mean Mom spends most of her time worrying about the health of her son.
"I just worry about the long-term effects of what he does. He is smaller and I worry about his knees and his back," Muriel said. "But he loves it and it has taught him a lot, so there are benefits."
Bj has found a niche in wrestling, blossoming into the state's top wrestler at 140 pounds. He will again lead the Liberty program and hopes to repeat as state champion.
"He is just an athlete. He exudes athleticism," Liberty coach Stark Porter said. "His agility, his balance, tenaciousness; he is good. You can't take him down. He is great in all three of the fundamental positions. He is phenomenal on his feet. There is no flair, there is no 'ooh and ahh.' He just gets it done."
"I have never really seen anyone I knew well take state, so it is a really big deal, let alone to have my son take it," Rick said of his son's accomplishment. "He just walked around for the next month and he'd look at me, smile and go, 'I just can't believe I took state.' "
The biggest worry for a state champion returning for his senior campaign is that he can come into the season overconfident. But Ward, who spent weeks walking around the house waiting for reality to set in, shouldn't have that problem.
"It's going to take hard work like last year," he said. "I just have to work as hard as last year. Coach said a lot of people don't know if I can do it because a lot of times, once you come back, a lot of kids are cocky and don't work hard. If I work hard, I think I can do it."
Ward appears ready to defend his state championship, but the second one doesn't come easy.
"I am just as hungry as I was last year," he said. "I think it is going to be just as hard as last year, if not harder, because people will be gunning for me."
Whether he wins another state title or not, Bj will always own the title that means the most the best wrestler in the family. Thanks to those nightly Ward family wrestling clinics.
Mason Kelley: email@example.com
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