People were talking and finding their seats when all of a sudden, the lights went out inside of Bret Harte High School’s gymnasium. The only light that remained shining was a spotlight that hung from the ceiling above the purple mat and shone down on the white “BH” logo inside of a yellow circle.
The talking quickly stopped and silence took over as anticipation started to build.
The silence was broken by the faint guitar riff of the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Can’t Stop” that grew louder with each passing second. When the singing portion of the song began, the Bullfrogs made their way from the locker room to the mat in a single-file line, with hands resting on the shoulders of the teammate in front of them.
Once the Bullfrogs hit the mat and began their warmups, still with only the spotlight illuminating the “BH” logo, a loud cheer came from those inside the gym who were quiet the previous 30 seconds. For the first time in roughly six years, Bret Harte finally hosted a wrestling dual.
Bret Harte’s program went from the best in the section, to having its doors closed and lights turned off, to now, resurrected and heading back in the right direction. As the Bullfrogs warmed up and “Can’t Stop” continued to echo throughout the gym, Bret Harte head coach Mike Borean stood by himself and took in the moment the best he could.
“I was the happiest person in the gym,” Borean said. “To see it happen with the lights going out and the kids doing the warmup, it was a very emotional and wonderful thing for me.”
Bret Harte didn’t beat the Sonora Wildcats Wednesday night in Angels Camp. In fact, the Bullfrogs lost 48-30. But the final score seemed to be an afterthought. Yes, Bret Harte would like to get back into being able to compete with whatever team is on the other side of the mat, but for now, having wrestling back inside its home gym was the biggest victory of the night.
“The fact that we finally had a home match after all of this time and had a pretty good crowd is great,” Borean said. “Bret Harte is back and all the teams in the league are glad that we are back and we are getting a lot of congratulations from a lot of alum and former coaches that we are back in the scene. I’m very happy about it.”
On the other side of the mat, Sonora head coach Jordan DePaoli knows the legacy of Bret Harte wrestling and feels that having the Bullfrogs back and competitive will only do good things for the Mother Lode League.
“This will only better our league in the long run,” DePaoli said. “It’s good to have a full league. Bret Harte was a top-tier program and when you have a guy who is fighting in the UFC (TJ Dillashaw) who came from this program, that’s a sense of pride in itself. The coaches have done a great job of getting kids out and once you get it started like this, it’s going to be here for a long time.”
The wrestlers for both teams were introduced and those that had a match shook hands with their opponent as a sign of respect. When it was time to announce the 182-pound competitors, Bret Harte junior sensation Kodiak Stephens jogged to the middle of the mat and was met by no Sonora grappler. With no Wildcat slated to wrestle, Stephens knew he wouldn't be in action.
And although Stephens didn’t get to compete, he understood how big of a night it was for everyone in the program and was nevertheless thrilled to be there.
“It’s really awesome and was a lot of fun,” Stephens said about finally having a home meet. “This is the first time I’ve ever been in a dual meet with my team. It’s a really big moment and a step in rebuilding the program. It really sucked that I didn’t get to wrestle tonight, but hey, you win some and lose some.”
With all the pomp and circumstance completed, it was time to wrestle. And in the very first match back after such a long and frustrating hiatus, Bret Harte sophomore Alec Landry let everyone in the gym know that the Bullfrogs are back in business as he picked up a pin in the first period.
“It was our first dual meet in a long time, so to start out with a decisive pin like that was wonderful,” Borean said. “And for Alec, he’s come such a long way from last year. Last year, he was a very weak JV wrestler. This year, he’s a force to deal with. As a sophomore, he’s getting stronger and bigger and he’s fun to watch.”
Bret Harte didn’t get another win until freshman Dakota Stephens went out to wrestle in the 138-pound match. Stephens picked up a pin with one-second remaining in the first period for Bret Harte’s second pin of the night.
“He’s just a technician,” Borean said of the younger Stephens. “He and his brother wrestle year-round. As a freshman, he’s going to be at least a divisional level wrestler and in a couple of years, he’ll join his brother at state.”
As the matches went on, all Kodiak Stephens could do was sit and watch. And while he wasn’t able to wrestle, he knew his job was to be the best teammate that he could.
“It was very stressful,” Kodiak Stephens said. “It’s hard to watch everyone else wrestle and I see things that they could do and I want to help them, but I can’t. I just have to give them as much encouragement as I can and water if they need it.”
Bret Harte’s final points came courtesy of junior Soren Jensvold, although not in the way he hoped. Jensvold and his opponent squared off and early in the match, frustrations from the Sonora grappler became obvious. He was hit with two technical violations after numerous warnings from the referee. And once it became apparent that a warning wasn’t going to be enough, the referee disqualified the Sonora wrestler and awarded the victory to Jensvold.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” Jensvold said. “He beat me all last year and I didn’t want to beat him like this. I don’t consider this a win and I don’t consider this as a wrestled match. I only got one takedown and then I got the points from the technicals. It wasn't really a match and I don’t count it as a win.”
At the end of the night, Bret Harte got points from two pins, one disqualification and two forfeits, but it was still not enough to capture a victory. But that didn’t matter. Wednesday night was a building block and as long as the Bullfrogs “Can’t Stop,” they truly are crossing over a bridge to better days.