As you neared the doors at the back of the field house, you started to hear the noise. The music was loud, the instructions were being barked out, the bodies were hitting the mats. Listening to the activity and feeling the energy coming from the King Philip wrestling room, it was obvious that the Warriors were primed for a busy weekend at the Div. 2 state meet.
The wrestlers come together at the end of the practice, forming a circle on the floor, one last chance to hype themselves up for the afternoon. At the center of it all kneels sophomore Austin Cannon, inspiring his teammates, as he has done all season, whether on the mat competing himself or keeping the team motivated during meets.
Austin is a wheelchair user. If you thought that would prevent him from training like the other wrestlers or going out and winning matches, one conversation with Austin will quickly dispel that notion.
“Sports are just something I love, as a young kid,” Austin explained a few minutes after the wrestling room cleared for the day. “I just enjoy wrestling because I think it’s really fun and I’ve really bonded with my teammates.”
KP coach John Adams pointed to the diversity of the student-athletes on his team, including the program’s first female wrestler, and how important it is to experience that diversity in high school. He also noted that wrestling is a physically demanding activity at any level, but that none of it has phased Austin at all.
“The philosophy, it says on the wall, is if you can do this then all else in life will be easier,” Adams said. “Austin has bought into our philosophies and belief system from day one – the alignment of mind, body, and spirit; respect, pride, victory; through these doors walks true warriors; be comfortable with discomfort. He gets it. He always has.”
Austin began wrestling with the Kryptonite Wrestling Club in Plainville before joining the KP team last year. He is fully committed to sports, working with Adaptive Sports New England and training with paralympians Mike Prout (swimming) and Anderson Wise (track). He is also rowing during the spring and summer at Community Rowing, Inc.
These former Olympic athletes are providing a platform for wheelchair users, such as Austin, to participate in and build their love of sports.
Carrying that mentality into the wrestling room this winter, Austin has set expectations for himself as high as any expectation from the coaches. Adams said, “He gives me exactly what I expect from everybody. All I want is all you got and he comes in here every single day during training and he’s dedicated to improvement.”
This season provided the first chance for Austin to compete in a sanctioned match. KP holds an open spot on its calendar for a youth night. The Warriors compete against each other in officiated, intrasquad matches before allowing the youth wrestlers to do the same. A good crowd is normally on hand to support the program.
Austin, who wrestles at 145 pounds, took the mat to face off against classmate and co-captain Kevin Gillis, giving the 126-pounder a battle to the end. “The first time he wrestled a match, it was a team thing so it was me and him wrestling and he’s definitely picked up on all of the fundamentals and he executes them very well,” Gillis said.
He continued, “It’s great for [Austin]. He’s working as hard, if not harder, than everyone else in the room. He’s really found a way to fit in with everyone. He’s definitely a part of us. There’s no difference in the way anyone treats him and he comes to all our meets and everything, and it’s just been a great time for everyone.”
Doing well in his first match was no surprise to Austin. “I think I was really confident,” he said. “I’ve always been a confident person.” When asked what it was like to compete in front of not only his teammates, but the big crowd in the Wooden Gym, he added, “It’s a great feeling.”
With the varsity wrestlers competing in the state tournament, Adams looked for opportunities to get some experience for the rest of the team. There was a Futures Tournament coming up in just a few days at North Attleboro and Austin was looking forward to another chance to show what he’s learned the past few months.
“He accepted the coaching, he wrestled through situations, positionally he was sound, he attacked in ways that he knows he can score, and he did so,” Adams said about Austin’s first match. “It was great to see. I’m proud of him. We knew that he had that ability to develop as a wrestler, and as a person.
“The first words out of his mouth were, ‘When do I go again?’ So we started to say let’s get him a more challenging opponent, let’s get him another opportunity, just as we would when [preparing] any young athlete into the sport. Each and every time, he’s risen to the challenge. He executes. That defines him.”
KP went 3-0 on the day. Improving to 9-4 on the year. Austin Cannon got another win today as well!
KP 51 – Mansfield 25
KP 66 – Southeastern 15
KP 42 – Norwood 36 pic.twitter.com/TmvIKncg8B
— King Philip Wrestling (@KPHS_Wrestling) January 21, 2023
Austin has been there all season to make sure the team is focused and ready to go each meet. In the middle of what can be a long, grueling season, he adds an extra intensity during dual meets, urging his teammates on.
“One of the things I appreciate most about that is I do the corner coaching on this team and it can be chaotic and noisy in these competitive environments, but I also like support from the bench,” Adams explained. “He’ll pick up on the scenario and the instruction I’m giving and he’ll reinforce it. The intensity is always there. At the same time, the switch can flip and he’s quick with a smile.”
Winter seasons can be long. Strenuous practices every day, long weekends spent at quad meets or tournaments, a couple nonstop months of working hard on the mat, but Austin is relishing every chance to be with his teammates, and the feeling is mutual.
“I think it would be really surprising to most people just seeing how easily he does things and how well he’s picked it up,” Gillis said. “I think it’s just great seeing him out here.”
Adams added “He has great mat awareness. He has a strong work ethic. He has a positive energy. He handles both defeat and loss with dignity, class, and composure.
“They’re all behind one another. He’s a very important part of that formula.It is a family, of sorts, and he’s a part of that family.”
To learn more about Adaptive Sports New England and its varied programs, visit https://adaptivesportsne.org. For more information about Community Rowing, Inc., visit https://www.communityrowing.org/inclusion/para.