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Refuge on the mat
Skousen qualifies for state tournament with heavy heart for late uncle
WELLTON – Nobody would blame Kurtis Skousen for missing the 1A/2A State Wrestling Tournament.
After all, it's not everyday someone he's known his entire life dies suddenly. His uncle, Dan Skousen, 60, passed away Feb. 2 - two days before the Metro Region Championships.
"It's tough because you know someone all your life and then they are gone just like that," Kurtis said.
In mid-January, doctors found a cancerous tumor in Dan's throat.
"They couldn't do anything about it," Kurtis said. "He went into hospice. We knew it was only a matter of time."
Kurtis, 16, decided the best way to honor the man affectionately known as "Little Dan" was to get back on the mat.
The Antelope sophomore won the 140 pound Metro Region title with a 9-4 victory and qualified for the state tournament, which opens Friday and concludes Saturday at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
Kurtis improved to 29-2 and is one of the top four seeds at the state at the weight. Heavyweight teammate Johnny Salcido also claimed a Metro crown. In all, 10 Rams advanced to state.
"It was good to get back out there," Kurtis said. "All I had to focus on was my opponent."
While most of his family will be attending a visitation in Chandler, Dan's hometown, on Friday and funeral services in Hyder on Saturday, Kurtis will be gunning for state supremacy.
"It's what he would have wanted," Kurtis said.
Kurtis and Dan's son, Aaron, played varsity football this past season for the Rams. The close knit farming families live about a half a mile from each other in the Hyder area, which is about 60 miles northeast of Antelope. Aaron is the youngest of seven children - all of which graduated from Antelope.
The Metro Championships was Kurtis' first live action since just before Christmas. It was then that Kurtis noticed a small red blemish, no bigger than a dime, on his leg.
His coach fearing it was ringworm kept him out of action until they definitively diagnosed it as eczema.
"It was tough not being able to wrestle because I wasn't injured," Kurtis said. "It didn't hurt. It was just a red spot."
Unlike eczema, ringworm is a highly communicable skin disease caused by a fungus that has sidelined entire wrestling teams.
"We are not doctors but what we did was error on the safe side," Antelope coach Rick St. Clair said.
Shortly after being cleared to return to the mat, the state was hit by three powerful winter storms over a three-day period that led to severe flooding and the postponing or canceling of many end-of-season duals.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," St. Clair said. "You never know how a person is going to react when put in that situation, having to deal with a death in the family. He was a little rusty but he made it through."
Two of Kurtis' brothers - Jacob who was fifth and Bob who was fourth - placed at state but none won it all. The top six in each weight receive medals at state. St. Clair believes Kurtis can be the first to do so or at the very least crack the top three.
Kurtis qualified for state last year but did not place.
"I think ultimately by the time he graduates he has a good shot at being a multi-state place," St. Clair said. "How high is up to him. Looking at the bracket that he has if he wrestles to his potential he could place this year.
While Kurtis took his spot on the three-tiered awards stand at the Metro Region tournament, the announcer said, "I'm sure 'Little Dan' is watching and smiling from above."
Kurtis, glanced up, smiled and nodded his head in agreement as he accepted his medal.
"I just want to win state," Kurtis said. "I'm just going to go at them, do my best and see how it all plays out."
Also earning top seeds at state on the strength of Metro Region titles were: San Pasqual juniors Joe Delgado (103) and Andrew Baltazar (135) and seniors Roger Valencia (130) and Pedro Martinez (171); and Yuma Catholic senior and defending state champion Nick Waterford (215) and sophomore Ryan Gill (152).
Ten from San Pasqual and nine from YC advanced to state.
Brian Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6880.