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The Best Sports Story of the Year
December 17, 2003
Wrestlers share magical moment
BY CRAIG SESKER
LINCOLN - Lincoln East Coach Marty McCurdy's wrestling room is loaded with talent.
But one of McCurdy's wrestlers for the two-time defending Class A champion Spartans never will experience the thrill of stepping on the mat to compete in a state tournament.
East freshman Trevor Howe has Down syndrome, a genetic, chromosomal disorder. The result is mental retardation and an inability to develop motor skills fully.
Just doing a simple forward roll is difficult for the 15-year-old.
"Wrestling is a struggle for Trevor," McCurdy said. "Trevor's condition makes coordination difficult at times, and it makes it difficult for him to use all of his strength at the right time."
But last Saturday, Trevor was able to experience the thrill of a lifetime when he stepped on the mat and earned a victory.
All thanks to the generosity, class and compassion displayed by a selfless 17-year-old Kearney High School senior who showed maturity and grace far beyond his years.
McCurdy had sent an e-mail to Kearney Coach Tom McCann and Assistant Coach Dennis Miller asking if one of the Kearney wrestlers would compete against Trevor in a junior varsity match while agreeing not to pin him for two periods and promising not to hurt him.
Kearney's Brandon Teel, a backup 189-pounder for the Bearcats, agreed to compete and provide enough resistance to allow 5-foot-2, 180-pound Trevor to experience what a competitive six-minute match feels like.
Teel went one step further than anybody expected, allowing Trevor to win the match. He allowed Trevor to turn him to his back with a half-nelson hold and record a third-period pin.
"That was really fun," Trevor said.
McCurdy said he was "real surprised" Teel allowed Trevor to win the match, which came during a triangular at Lincoln East with Kearney and Millard North.
"We just wanted Brandon to let Trevor experience wrestling in a competitive match," McCurdy said. "Their coaches didn't tell Brandon he had to lose, but that was very neat what he did."
Kearney and Lincoln East fans stood and cheered both wrestlers after the match.
"In my mind, Brandon is a true champion in the hearts of the East High wrestling family," McCurdy said. "He is a tribute to the excellent coaches at Kearney. He gave the sport of wrestling a victory."
McCann, in his 37th season of coaching, said it was a memorable experience.
"I got a little teary-eyed," said McCann, whose team is ranked No. 2 behind East. "It was worth it to see that young man jump up and down and hug his coach and hug his dad. The whole place went crazy. I have had so many great experiences as a coach, but I have never seen anything like this."
When McCurdy made his request to the Kearney coaches to find an opponent for his wrestler, Miller, a longtime Bearcat assistant, went to work.
"I thought, wow, this is going to take a special kid to do this," Miller said. "We wanted to give the kid a match to remember. I told Brandon we were not going to pin the kid. I think during the course of the match Brandon decided to let the kid pin him. I told Brandon I bet he never thought he would get a standing ovation for getting pinned. That was a once-in-a-lifetime moment."
McCurdy alerted referee Bob Meeker of Omaha as to what was transpiring before the match.
Teel said he couldn't bring himself to win the match.
"He was really working - he was trying so hard," Teel said. "I was supposed to win on points in the third period, but I didn't think it would be right for me to beat him. It ended up being better this way anyway."
Teel, who also won a match on Saturday, said he "had no idea" he would receive so much recognition for what he did.
"It has been awesome," Teel said. "The fans gave both of us a standing ovation, and I think everyone in the gym came up and shook my hand after the match. It was pretty neat. I was just glad I could help out."
The victory was just an added bonus for Trevor.
"I am not sure Trevor understood he won at first," said Chris McCurdy, wife of the East coach. "He had so much fun, I don't think he really cared if he won or lost."
Among those applauding were Trevor's parents, Dr. Peter Howe and his wife, Laurie, who were attending their first wrestling meet. Peter is a Lincoln urologist.
They thanked Teel after the match.
"What Brandon did was the ultimate show of sportsmanship and humility," Laurie said. "To have the referee raise Trevor's arm, have the crowd cheering and have his teammates cheering, that was a very emotional moment. It was really touching. We were so proud."
Trevor was not told of the coaches' agreement.
"Trevor legitimately in his mind won that match," Laurie said. "He still doesn't realize what really happened. He was just so proud he could win a match for his team. That was a huge thrill for him. It turned out to be a wonderful moment. It was magical."
The Howes have four children. Only Trevor, their second-oldest child, was born with a birth defect.
Older sister Allison, 17, is a senior at Lincoln Pius X. His younger sister, Kelly, 12, is a seventh-grader. His brother, Bryce, 11, is in fifth grade. Allison is involved in music. Kelly competes in basketball, soccer and swimming. Bryce plays tennis.
"Trevor is very, very supportive of his siblings," Laurie said. "He is the No. 1 cheerleader for them at whatever activity they do. That's why this was so great for him. He finally got a chance to compete, and his siblings really supported him."
Said Trevor: "My brother was like 'Go Trevor' after I won."
Trevor is a first-year wrestler. He had an interesting reaction when he tried on his singlet before his match.
"I looked like a dork," Trevor said.
He lifted weights with Coach McCurdy during the fall to prepare for the season. He also had a number of one-on-one wrestling sessions with his coach.
"Trevor loves sports," Laurie said. "We were looking for something he could be involved in. We have known Coach McCurdy for a number of years. He extended an invitation and said he would love to work with Trevor. Marty's been great."
Trevor attends a regular physical education class in school, but he has to attend special-needs courses in reading and math. His mother said he reads at a first-grade level.
Peter Howe said members of the Lincoln East team make it a point to include Trevor when the team gets together off the mat.
"It's unbelievable how those kids treat Trevor," Peter said. "Those guys have done a tremendous amount for Trevor. His whole self-esteem has just gone way up. He is walking a lot taller now."