In wrestling, a few seconds on the mat can stick with you for a lifetime.
For Ronald Wells, his moment that remains stuck in time came in the final five to 10 seconds of his freshman season.
The Omaha Central senior will wrestle the next three days at the state tournament with a third state title as his motivation.
It won't be his driving force.
What drives him happened three years ago at a district tournament in Norfolk. Wells, a heavy favorite to win his district, was upset in the finals.
What happened after that loss still haunts him.
Disappointed and caught up in the moment, Wells slammed down his headgear and blurted an obscenity directed at no one in particular.
The referee hit Wells with two unsportsmanlike infractions, which in effect disqualified Wells from the state tournament.
“You would have thought the guy committed murder the way it came down,” Central coach Jimmie Foster said. “I don't know if the punishment fit the crime.”
Wells' father hired an attorney and attempted to get an injunction before the state tournament started. It didn't work. Wells watched all three days of state from a seat high in the CenturyLink Center's upper bowl.
“It sucked,” he said.
There are many parts of those seconds after that match that can be examined.
Wells admits it starts with him. He doesn't use his age — he was 14 at the time — as an excuse, but he'll tell you he was immature and didn't handle the situation the way he should have.
“If he keeps his cool,” Foster said, “we're not having this conversation.”
Still, it's not uncommon for emotions to spill over in a sport like wrestling. Wells wasn't the first or last — even on that day three years ago, according to Foster — to let it get the best of him.
Foster recalled a similar situation, a year before Wells' incident, at a district meet at Omaha North. A wrestler was ejected for unintentionally bumping an official.
After wrestling was over, the referee involved, the wrestler involved, and other officials and coaches got together in a room and discussed the incident. The disqualification was reversed.
Foster, who was at North that day, thought a similar discussion could be organized on Wells' behalf. He said he talked with the tournament director and referee to no avail.
“This is a kid that was never in trouble once,” said Foster, still miffed at the memory.
'He doesn't quit'
Who knows if Ronald Wells would have won state as a freshman?
Anything can happen when it matters most — as evidenced by his loss in the district finals.
But Wells would have been a favorite at 112 pounds that year. He had wins over most of the medalists. He beat eventual champion Kyle Miller of Millard South twice during the regular season.
“When I saw them raise his hand,” Wells said, “it hurt.”
It fueled some of the hardest work Foster has ever seen out of an athlete. Wells took state as a sophomore at 125, winning 18-8 in the finals. He capped a 34-2 junior season with a title at 132.
He's one of eight Class A wrestlers to enter the state tournament unbeaten this season.
“He's always on the attack,” Foster said. “He doesn't quit.”
Of his nine career losses — compared with 115 wins — six came at the hands of former Omaha Skutt standout Thomas Gilman, now redshirting at college power Iowa.
Foster laughs when he tells the story of Wells being hyped up to start his career with the Eagles, feeling good about the work he had done to get ready for the season.
“We get to the first tournament,” Foster said, “and his draw for the very first match he ever wrestled in high school is against (Gilman).
“It wasn't good.”
Losses have been rare since. He's again ranked No. 1 at his weight class entering action Thursday.
Nineteen wrestlers have won four state titles in Nebraska state history. Wells could join a list of three-time winners that is about four times as long.
“Three is impressive,” Wells said. “It's not four, though.”
The incident three years ago, Foster says, isn't Ronald Wells.
In fact, Wells rarely discusses it.
“The only time I really think about it is when people bring it up,” he said. “I forgot about it.”
That's the mentality Wells has taken, but there is still underlying emotion. He says he will probably look back at it if he wins three and wonder “what if?”
“It'll hit me later on,” he said. “I'll probably cry about it.”
He hasn't decided which route he'll take in college, but Wells said he'll definitely be wrestling.
Life deals everyone challenges. Wells understands that.
The crash course he got in dealing with adversity has come in handy and will help in the future.
“It definitely was a motivation then and it is now,” Wells said. “Probably always will be.”
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