Gielczyk: Perseverance Pays Off for Mancelona’s Morgan
Aris Morgan’s wrestling journey has been filled with more than its share of twists and turns in the road, as well as a painful detour that cost him the majority of his freshman season.
He started his athletic career at Traverse City St. Francis, but was dealt a major blow when his left arm was broken playing freshman football. Officially the injury was diagnosed as a compound left fracture in his left radius and ulna.
You guessed it. Morgan is left-handed, so the injury effectively left him with his strongest asset in a cast and he was forced to sit out the first half of the 2013-14 season. Fortunately, he didn’t need surgery.
But it was only the beginning of Morgan’s trials.
In his first match after receiving medical clearance from his doctor to have the cast removed and start wrestling again, Morgan broke his left arm again. Although the injury happened in the first period, Morgan somehow managed to wrestle through it and pinned his opponent in the third period.
But, that was it. Season over. It felt like a blow to his mid-section, taking all the air of out his body.
He wrestled one more match at the end of the season, but he was out of shape and had no stamina.
Morgan shook off doubts about whether he would wrestle again, and determined to get back. He was rewarded recently when he recorded his 100th career win, a landmark in high school wrestling akin to scoring 1,000 points in basketball.
It’s been a long, hard road. But it’s been worth every step along the way for Morgan.
"The journey has been unexplainable," Morgan said. "You have to be a wrestler to kind of understand everything that it takes to be part of a sport. Nothing is cooler than saying you toughed out four years of varsity wrestling.
"It’s easily the toughest sport out there. Looking back, crazy is the word I can put it into. What you have to do, what you have to go through to get to where you want to reach and the determination it takes. It’s an individual sport, and you’re the only one out there."
Morgan, who has a 25-2 record, said winning No. 100 was not only a huge moment for him, but for his dad, Brandon, as well.
Since the first time he began wrestling in the third grade, Morgan’s dad has been his biggest supporter.
Being able to celebrate his milestone with his dad was special for Morgan.
He took his hat off to his opponent, Tony Young of Lake City, who he said has tremendous potential and gave him a good fight until an over-and-under tomahawk gave Morgan the first period pin at 135 pounds.
It was hard to stick with it, though.
"My expectations were pretty high for my freshman year in wrestling," Morgan reflected. "I was pretty excited for my freshman wrestling season. Then I broke my left arm in football. They didn’t do any surgery. They just put a cast on.
"I only had two matches my freshman year, one at the end of the year. I worked out and did a lot of wrestling over the summer. I was looking to come back and make a name for myself my sophomore year because nobody knew about me. I was completely going under the radar."
A conference champion, Morgan was able to make it to regionals his sophomore year where he lost by a take-down in the finals.
One win shy of qualifying for the Michigan High School Athletic Association state championships, and a trip to The Palace of Auburn Hills.
He was happy with those results, but was still hungry for more. And people were starting to remember his name.
So over the summer he did a lot of lifting and gained some weight, jumping from 119 pounds up to 130.
But then came a hitch in the plan.
Morgan had to switch schools, moving to Bellaire. But the Eagles don’t have a wrestling program. Another setback. So he began looking at either Kalkaska or Mancelona. He decided on Mancelona.
It’s proven to be a good move.
"The support system, the team and the coaches are some awesome people," Morgan said. "I put on some muscle, put on some weight and wrestled a little bit. I got in shape. My junior year went really well for me at Mancelona.
"I wrestled at 130 and was again a conference champ. I made it through districts, through regionals and ended up being a state qualifier. To wrestle in The Palace is another unexplainable experience, and something you kind of have to experience for yourself. It’s awesome. It’s amazing beyond words."
Scott Crothers, now in his third year as the Ironmen coach, has noticed that Morgan is much more focused this year. The dedication is there.
"He doesn’t panic," Crothers added. "Even if he gets down on points, or in a bad position. That goes along with his mental toughness. He just always looks so calm, even when I’m not. I really like it.
"Even when he gets behind, or makes a bad shot, he doesn’t flail around. He re-sets and make a shot. He fixes what he did wrong."
Morgan would like to help lead the Ironmen to a district championship, something they haven’t done since 2003.
Crothers feels the Ironmen have a good shot at doing just that.
"Really, our only hurdles are St. Francis and Frankfort," the coach says. "We’re wrestling pretty good right now and it’s not unrealistic that we can do it."
Morgan is also shooting for a podium finish at the state finals for himself. He’d like to close out his high school career with a bang.
An individual state title would fit the bill just fine. It would complete the journey.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News.