The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

February 18, 2014

Harold Raker's high school wrestling column: Milton sophomore returns to mat after shoulder injury

MILTON — In addition to the awful weather, Brandon Stokes had even more reason to be depressed in early January.

The Milton sophomore thought his season, one in which he aspired to qualify for his first state tournament, was over before it really got started.

Stokes sustained a shoulder injury while wrestling in the Anthracite Duals at Panther Valley High School on Jan. 4.

He was in a body lock with a Halifax wrestler and, while attempting a throw, he landed hard on his shoulder.

“My first reaction to the injury was that my season was over,” said Stokes, who returned to action for the first time last weekend in the District 4 Class AA South Sectional in Mifflinburg.

A hook-up with Dr. Michael Suk, chairman of the department of orthopaedic surgery at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, changed his outlook and as a result, Stokes won the sectional title and is 18-6 entering this weekend’s district tournament in Williamsport.

Suk performed surgery, which included inserting a metal plate in Stokes’ shoulder.

“It led me to believe I would be able to get back on the mat in time for sectionals,” Stokes said. “Dr. Suk was very supportive of my goals and, after telling him I wanted to be back, he was able to operate on me as soon as possible so that my goals had the opportunity to be attained.”

Stokes, wrestling at 195 pounds, won the title with a 5-3 decision over Danville’s Gunnar Feldmann, but not without a brief scare. In that final bout, he again landed hard on the mat and had to be examined by a trainer, but he went right back to work and pulled out the win.

“It was not as much an injury as a scare,” he said. “When he cut me off and I escaped I was simply not ready for the shot and he hit my shoulder. It was a little painful, but not anything to affect my wrestling from that point on.”

He said he doesn’t think about the plate in his shoulder while wrestling. “I try to focus on my task at hand and it doesn’t affect me all that bad,” he said.

Stokes is also a standout baseball player and has played football, but missed the early part of last season because he was playing fall baseball.

The wrestling injury has given him a new perspective.

“This has motivated me to believe in my goals, and, with the support of family, friends and coaches, that anything can be a reality,” he said.

“I’ve been blessed to have positive role models in my life, and with saying that they always want me to keep pushing myself to be able to have those goals be a reality,” said Stokes, son of Bobby and Lisa Stokes.

He said that coming back from the injury and winning the sectional title was satisfying to a point. “To say the least, it is not where I want the road to end. I want to keep wrestling, hopefully into March.”

The last six months have been an emotional challenge as well.

In addition to the injury, Stokes lost his grandmother, Liz Mattern, and “wrestling has given me something to focus on.”

Meanwhile, Stokes will continue to compete in wrestling and baseball, but his future in football is undetermined. Because of the injury, he has not decided whether to play football. “I want to be able to give 100 percent to the sport and, if I can’t achieve this, I feel that it isn’t fair to my coach or my teammates.”

He said baseball and wrestling “shine different lights in my life.”

He said, “In wrestling, I feel like you get back as much as you put into the sport individually. While with baseball, I feel that it has naturally come to me.

He said he has needed to work harder in wrestling than in his other sports.

“Baseball has always been a love for me and I love the team aspect of both sports to a great extent,” he said.

Down the road, Stokes could even take on a fourth sport.

His father is a veteran late model race driver who has competed at Selinsgrove Speedway. His mother was the owner of the race team which had the late Blaise Alexander as its driver.

Stokes was 4 years old when Alexander was killed in a crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway and he said the tragedy was devastating to his family.

“Blaise came to the hospital when I was born,” he said.

Stokes has never raced, but said he would not rule out competing in the sport at some point in his life.

He said his dad misses races to watch him compete in his sports and “I like going to watch my dad race.”

“I’m not extremely attached to racing, but I won’t rule it out of the picture,” he said.

For now, the only race that matters to Stokes is the one that could end in the Giant Center in Hershey next month.

n Harold Raker covers high school wrestling for The Daily Item.

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