Even before he stepped on the mat last weekend in Salina, Baldwin High senior Kevin Callahan was a champion.
During his four-year career with the Bulldogs, Callahan became one of the better-known wrestlers in the area. He racked up an incredible career record and was the owner of seven school records and four state records, including his standing as the state's all-time leader in victories. In addition, he qualified for and placed at the state tournament three years in a row.
Still, even with all of that on his shiny resume, the 130-pound senior had yet to achieve his ultimate goal of winning a state title.
In 2005, as a freshman, Callahan broke onto the scene with a fourth-place finish at the state tourney.
There have been many great wrestlers go their entire careers without bringing home one piece of state hardware. Callahan hit the jackpot in his first try.
During the next two seasons, Callahan improved on his showing, finishing second as a sophomore and second again as a junior.
So this year, after he rolled through his first three opponents with a 15-0 tech-fall in round one, a sound, 9-1 decision in round two and a convincing pin of fellow-area wrestler Matt Brock, of Tonganoxie, in the semifinals, one can only wonder what went through his mind.
What happened next answered that question. Callahan gutted out a 3-2 decision over Chanute's Cameron Jesseph in the state championship match, his final feat as a Baldwin High wrestler.
The book had its last chapter.
Finishing your high school wrestling career on the top step of the state podium is the stuff dreams are made of. Few athletes - at any level - can say they've achieved such greatness in the final stage of their careers.
In this area alone, two wrestlers did exactly that last weekend, as Perry-Lecompton senior Alex Hackathorn also capped his career with a state championship in the Class 4A, 285-pound weight division.
Hackathorn, who finished the season with a 38-4 record, won his state title match by a decisive, 7-2 decision.
Hackathorn made quick work of his first two opponents and outlasted another in the semifinals before stepping to the top of the podium.
Many great days still are ahead for both state champions, but it's safe to bet that very few of them will be as thrilling as last Saturday in Salina.