Chattanooga — Von Ridenour sat almost stoic as his nephew took the mat for a shot at history last Friday. The Ridenour family, after all, knew a thing or two about leaving behind its mark.
Ridenour set a national high school record at 132 pounds when he pinned an opponent in amazing 5 seconds during a 1982 match at William Blount High School. High school wrestlers no longer compete at 132 pounds, so the record is Ridenour’s for life.
Maryville senior Blake Ridenour entered the championship match at 152 pounds at the state wrestling tournament with the chance to do his famous uncle one better. If he could cap an unbeaten season with one more win, he’d become the first state wrestling champion in school history and the first for Blount County in almost half a century.
He smoked the guy.
Scoring a takedown in the first 10 seconds, Ridenour went on to blank Chris Sinsheimer of Independence in an 8-0, major decision. The hardest part, he said, was taking the mat inside UT-Chattanooga’s McKenzie Arena when his name was first announced.
“It’s something nobody wants to feel,” Ridenour said. “Your heart is just pounding.”
Three periods later, it was set loose on wings.
“It still seems like a dream,” he said.
Blount County hadn’t produced a state wrestling champion since Everett’s Ron “Yogi” Wilson (1961) and Doug Overly (1964) became its lone medalists more than four decades ago. Friday, it very nearly had two.
William Blount’s Jacob Holley shocked the tournament in reaching the championship match at 125 pounds. The Governor senior, in only his third season of wrestling, fell in a first-period pin to Soddy-Daisy’s Campbell Lewis, but it was no less a remarkable run.
“I was happy to place second,” Holley said. “This has been my goal (to medal at state) since I started wrestling.”
Prior to Friday, Holley had never made it past the second round.
“To only wrestle three years and make it to the state championship is incredible,” William Blount coach Matt Talley said.
To accomplish what Ridenour has this season is no less fantastic.
Named the state tournament’s most outstanding wrestler, the Rebel history-maker finished the year an unbeaten 43-0, but it goes much deeper. Ridenour ran the table this season without yielding a single point to an in-state opponent prior to last weekend. He’d only been scored on once, the blemish coming at a holiday tournament in South Carolina.
A sports hernia suffered the weekend before the state meet, coupled with respiratory problem lingering from the region tournament, left Ridenour less than 100 percent when wrestling began last Wednesday in Chattanooga. He would still yield only three points to four combined opponents at state, a championship run that included a quarterfinal round pin of Ooltewah’s Brent Elliot.
“If you just put your mind to something, you can do anything,” Ridenour said.
The first county wrestler to ever receive a Southeast ranking, Ridenour had 32 wins this season by pin, forfeit or technical fall.
With that kind of wind at Ridenour’s back, Maryville coach Mark Humphrey said he felt confident the school was about to crown its first state champion before the match even began.
“At this point, I’m not that nervous,” he said. “Blake wasn’t nervous because he knew he was the better wrestler and all he had to do was wrestle.”
When Ridenour took Sinsheimer to the mat in the first 10 seconds, Humphrey said he was almost certain of victory.
“It’s a real good sign when he gets that first takedown because he’s not going to give up much,” he said.
Scott Ridenour, Blake’s father, said he felt the same way.
After finishing third a year ago, when a bout with the flu derailed his title hopes, Blake’s preparation this season had been flawless. He’d go anywhere and everywhere to scrimmage the state’s best competition, more than once making the two-hour drive to Chattanooga for a practice round. There simply was no area wrestler capable of pushing Blount County’s only four-time region champion.
That withstanding, the pressures of entering the state meet unbeaten, coupled the hernia and breathing difficulties, were a concern, Scott Ridenour said.
“I thought that was kind of getting to him, but you wouldn’t believe his work ethic,” he said.
Friday afternoon, before Blake left the team’s hotel for the arena, Scott passed on a few words that brought it all home.
“I said, ‘Blake, this isn’t the end of the world if you don’t win,’” he said. “I told him I loved him and to give it 100 percent.”
It’s what Blake did — or rather didn’t do — after the match that impressed him most, Von Ridenour said. In an earlier match, the winner had taunted the cheering section of his opponent, walking to the front of the stands to raise both arms in triumph. It was a distasteful moment, Von said
Blake celebrated after winning by jumping into Humphrey’s arms, but the understandably jubilant moment took place near the entrance to the tunnel leading to the locker room, well clear of the arena floor. It was an insignificant moment for most but not for Von.
“The thing I’ve always told him is never let yourself get the big head,” Von Ridenour said, “never showboat.”
Stacy Ridenour, Blake’s mother, said the day-long wait for the championship match was a long one, but it was nothing compared to those first few minutes when Blake walked onto the arena floor. While displaying much the same calm Von portrayed, inside Stacy said her stomach was churning.
“I just wanted it so bad for him,” she said. “It’s like you’re holding your breath. You can’t breathe.”
Once Blake took an early lead, thoughts of how hard he’d worked and how far he’d come helped put the family at ease.
“I saw him put his blood and sweat into it,” said Rebel sophomore Logan Ridenour, Blake’s younger brother. “He deserved it so much.”
Maryville has come close to producing a state champion wrestler on more than one occasion, the most recent being a pair of silver medal finishes by former Rebel Landon Hall at the end of the 2006 and 2007 seasons. There have been others, each of them worthy of praise, Humphrey said.
“I’m happy for the kids that have placed second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth through the years,” he said. “He (Ridenour) devoted himself a little bit more and he deserves it.”
Ridenour said he got a call from Hall, now a sophomore at Carson-Newman, prior to the former’s semifinal match with Clarksville’s Matt Rabbitt. It did a lot to break the tension of how close he was getting, Ridenour said.
“He rooms with a kid from Clarksville,” Ridenour said. “He said, ‘You better kill that guy.’”
An 8-2 decision over Rabbit vaulted Ridenour into the title match, at which point Von Ridenour said he knew his nephew was ready.
“I could tell he was focused,” he said.
Sinsheimer was down, 2-0, in a matter of seconds. The rest was simply history.