DENVER • Mitchell wrestler Caleb “Chip” McElfresh, a senior, looked up in the stands, and for the fourth straight year wrestling, he didn’t see his father.
“I wouldn’t expect to,” he said.
The 113-pound kid, characterized as the wrestler with the hair and heart of gold, said his father walked out on his family five years ago. And while he misses him daily, the Marauders captain has learned to overcome any obstacle to come his way since.
“You have to be tough,” he said. “You have to do whatever it takes.”
So when Chip (27-8) lost his first-round match 8-2 to Fredrick’s Jesse Ortiz (14-14) at the Pepsi Center on Thursday, he didn’t put his head down for long.
“Now I just need to wrestle. Just come out and wrestle,” said McElfresh, who will face Pueblo Central’s Jeremiah Gonzales in the consolation bracket on Friday. “I let (Ortiz) dictate the match today. I can’t do that.”
If he sounds seasoned, it didn’t come over night.
Four years ago, freshman football player McElfresh took up the sport of wrestling after assistant football/wrestling coach Tim Bonebright nudged him into it. And so, without hesitation, the scrawny McElfresh agreed at yet another new experience.
“My dad never let me do sports,” McElfresh grinned. “So at least when he left I could do sports. I did football before wrestling, so I figured why not try another one.”
Wrestling didn’t come easy though, as the 85-pound freshman lost every single match in the 103-pound class that year. In fact, he’ll admit if you saw him back then you’d have laughed if he told you he would be a state qualifier one day.
“What an amazing and strong person,” said Mitchell coach Kevin Meyer, who is in his 17th year at the helm. “He’ll get knocked down once in a while, but he always bounces right back up.”
This season, McElfresh made a name for himself in one of the toughest regions in the state that includes some of the top contenders like Discovery Canyon, Mesa Ridge and Pueblo South. And with every takedown and pin on the mat, his two grandparents have been front-row center pushing him along.
“They come to every meet from Pueblo,” said McElfresh, whose mom usually can’t attend every meet because of her other four children. “They’ll come to Westminster, Denver … it doesn’t matter.”
As his senior season has neared the end, McElfresh, who will wrestle at Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) next season, capped off his remarkable high school career with a second-place finish in regionals, losing to Mesa Ridge’s Brandon Gonzales 10-9 in the championship.
“I had the lead until like 20 seconds to go,” he said. “But I felt pretty good either way. I mean my freshman year, Gonzales pinned me in the first round in both our matches.”
Thursday, looked upon by his mom, four siblings and of course grandparents, McElfresh lost his match’s final six points to seal defeat.
Even so, he remained focused and confident while stretching afterward, because frankly, he’s been here before.
“I’ll be back,” he said. “Heck, win or lose, I want to go out fighting.”