SPENCER - The answers are still few and far between for head coach Bobby Thompson and the Fort Dodge wrestling program in the aftermath of star junior Brayton Taylor's abrupt disqualification from a Class 3A district meet here Saturday.
Taylor, ranked third in the state at 135 pounds with a 29-2 record, led Sioux City West freshman Brandon Knutson 10-1 in the closing seconds of the first period when he was whistled for an illegal headlock. The official granted Knutson recovery time, and when the West coaches decided he could not continue because of an injury purportedly brought on by the move, the match was called and Taylor found himself suddenly sidelined.
Thompson said he did a lot of thinking and very little resting in the 24 hours following the setback. On Sunday, he remained as frustrated and bewildered as ever.
''I'm still in a state of shock,'' Thompson said. ''This is probably the hardest thing I've had to deal with in my 19 years of coaching. I know how much this means to Brayton and how he feels, because I'm just sick to my stomach and it has to be even worse for him.
''It's hard to look at Brayton right now and not break down, because he's broken down. He's at a loss. I was on the phone with him until 2 in the morning (Sunday) trying to work through it ... it's a very helpless feeling.''
Thompson questioned both the validity of the call itself and the connection to the injury. An illegal headlock, by definition, results in a one-point penalty. However, if the wrestler is injured in the process and cannot continue after recovery time, the aggressor can be disqualified.
''Brayton had him in more of an Olympic headlock - I just think the official didn't understand the hold,'' Thompson said. ''When the kid decided he wasn't going to continue, you could see (the referee's) head go down, because he realized the finality of the situation.
''Do I think (the call) was made maliciously? No. But do I think it was a mistake that wound up being bigger than he realized? Absolutely. And I'm still trying to understand how an illegal headlock leads to an injured shoulder. If you want to say it was an illegal move - even though it wasn't in my book - and take a point away, so be it. But it wasn't his neck that was hurt - it was his shoulder. So the call shouldn't have led to a disqualification.''
Thompson also pointed to the context of the situation.
''Look, if Brayton was down big and did something illegal out of desperation, that's one thing. You get what you deserve. He was in total control of this match, though. If you look at the tape, there could have easily been (a fall) called two or three different times.''
If Knutson's injury is as severe as it appeared - he was heavily favoring his shoulder when he came out to default his championship match - Thompson said there could be a withdrawal from the state tournament, which begins Thursday for Class 3A. Knutson and the West coaches must decide by today if he can compete later this week; if he can't, Taylor - a Prairie Valley transfer and 2010 state runner-up in 1A - advances as an alternate.
''We're at their mercy now,'' Thompson conceded. ''If the roles were reversed and we had a kid that was so injured that he couldn't continue at districts, we'd do the right thing for the health and future of (the athlete) and keep him out at state as well.
''There's more on the line for Brayton here than just a medal or even a shot at a title. This is an important time for him in the recruiting process, where colleges are taking a serious look. And they want to see what he can do (at state). To have a kid's opportunity taken away like this - it hurts. It really does. ''
The video is available on YouTube.com (search 'Brayton Taylor'). Decide for yourself. After viewing the tape, I was personally surprised the match had even reached the end of the period in the first place. A fall could have - and probably should have - easily been called well before the controversial decision. Knutson was put in harm's way by being allowed to continue, thanks to an official who swallowed his whistle before picking the wrong time to use it.
Two wrongs don't make a right. I can only hope Knutson gets sound advice - both medically and athletically - from his support system once cooler heads prevail. If Knutson's injury was serious and legitimate enough to bring his day to a crashing halt, his parents and coaches need to honestly assess what kind of physical and mental state he'll be in just days later under the bright lights of Wells Fargo Arena.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org