Baldwin One false step, and Gabe Mason's dreams of a return trip to the Class 4A state wrestling tournament came tumbling down.
Not that he knew it when it happened. Playing a simple game of catch with a football during a late November gym class, the Baldwin High junior felt his left knee pop, and after a short visit to the school's athletic training room, figured he had nothing more than a simple sprain.
It took a return to the wrestling mat to convince him otherwise. While competing in the season-opening Gardner-Edgerton tournament, Mason won his first match at 171 pounds and was winning his second when he felt his knee give again.
He toughed it out and finished the tournament with a 2-1 mark - his final record for the 2006-07 season after a doctor's visit less than a week later revealed a 90-percent tear in his anterior cruciate ligament and a partial tear of the meniscus.
Mason finally had surgery earlier this month, and hopes to recover in time to suit up for the Bulldogs on the football field this fall.
When you wrestled your only three matches this season, did you feel any problems with the knee before it got re-injured?
I kind of worried about it slightly. I brought a little knee sleeve just in case. It felt fine. My first match, I was like, OK, I should be good for this tournament. Then when my second match came, I kind of took a wrong step, and it did the same thing - pretty bad pain. But I finished out that match thinking, OK, I can get through this, I've got to get on to the finals and get this tournament over with and find out what may be wrong with it afterwards.
What was the first thing that went through your mind when the doctors told you it was a torn ACL?
I was kind of bummed. I was like, "Is that real serious? Can I still wrestle on it, or do I have to get knee surgery? And if I wait long, will it affect what I do next year?" He kind of gave me all the details of that, and I chose what I thought was best.
How tough has it been to have to sit through this season?
It was really hard. I was really sad that I didn't get to wrestle and that I didn't get to do football either (missing the 2006 season due to a prior knee injury). It just kind of hurt me, but I just thought, I've got other plans besides this, and I'm going to help out my team as much as I can to get them to that state tournament.
Have you tried to remain around the program and be a cheerleader, or is it too tough and you try to pull away?
It was (tough) in football. It really was. I pulled away a lot in football. I'd go to their games and watch them, but it was really devastating not to be out there with my team and all that. ... But for wrestling it was a different story. My coach had told me if it doesn't work out this year, you can still come and you can help us by coaching our kids and making them better. That gave me determination to come in and help out our wrestlers and keep 'em going.
Are you able to do different things to stay in shape even though you're not able to actually wrestle?
Yeah, different ways. I can still do push-ups and some sit-ups. Sometimes I just thought, I don't feel like doing anything, just relaxing, because my knee kind of bothers me every once in a while. I don't want to push it too much. I know I'll have the summer to get better and get it all going.
Are you worried at all that you're going to lose some technique and things like that that are important?
Yeah, I really thought about that. I think if I just watch and I learn and get the mental aspect of teaching myself, I think I can stay with it, stay with my technique and keep all that together. It's like going to school. You learn stuff at school, and it's sort of the same thing, just watching and learning what to do, what not to do in situations.