Gress was county’s 1st state wrestling champMay 15, 2020
BY JONATHAN SAXON
HUNTINGBURG — Stanley Gress dreamed of winning a state wrestling title after watching the high school state finals as an eighth grader. He’d been wrestling for a couple of years at that point, but seeing that high level of high school competition created an obsession for Gress.
“I made up my mind then that I was going to win it,” he said. “Every day that’s in your mind, you’re wanting to win. [Going] from ‘wanting’ to ‘gonna,’ it’s a mindset.”
Gress made no secrets of his championship aspirations, and went about building himself up for the goal. A big challenge for Gress was finding regular wrestling partners he could practice with, but he was able to find a few like Scott Mundy, John Kamman and Brian Balsmeyer once he joined the Southridge wrestling team. When Gress wasn’t hitting the mat, he was pounding pavement on long runs to build up endurance. He was coming off a junior year semi-state appearance and balanced workouts with his job in the summer of 1987 before his senior season. Gress, who wrestled in the 189-pound division, was energized and motivated once practice started that winter.
“It’s exciting and I’m like, ‘I’m going to go ahead and win the state title,” he said.
But the first step toward the title was a stumble. Gress dropped an 11-8 decision against Jennings County’s Rusty Castetter in his first match. Looking back, Gress thinks he went into the match overconfident, which left him exposed to Castetter’s takedowns. Gress didn’t take anything away from Castetter, but he felt he should have known better.
“That was a low point there,” he said. “I walked by a drinking fountain and clubbed it. It ripped off the wall, and water and sparks were flying. He was a good wrestler, but I never should have lost.”
Gress called that opening loss an “eye opener,” and from that point on, he adopted a more conservative approach that limited his exposure without sacrificing offense. Gress didn’t lose again the rest of the regular season. However, Gress believed he needed to add another weapon to his arsenal as he prepared for the Pocket Athletic Conference tournament.
Every wrestler worth his salt has a signature move, and, while Gress wasn’t looking to reinvent the People’s Elbow made famous by the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, he needed something he could use for reliable scoring against high-level opponents. So he developed an adjusted fireman’s carry, which he called the “sloppy fireman’s.”
“I had different versions of that move I used a lot,” he said. “I wanted to have a big move I could get on anybody, anytime of the match. It was a pretty safe move because I could back out, hold on to that arm and set it up again. It would lead to something else if I couldn’t get it.”
Gress ran through sectional and regional and redeemed his lone loss of the season in a 6-2 decision win over Castetter in the semi-state final. Now it was time for the Big Dance, the chance for Gress to realize his dream.
Gress, who was sixth-ranked going into state, opened the first round with an 8-2 decision over Anderson Madison Heights’ Todd Sturgeon. Next was a second-round matchup against 14th-ranked Larry Follard of Hammond. Gress found himself down 3-2 late in their match, but with 12 seconds left, he went for the sloppy fireman’s carry.
“I had him taken down about five times, but he kept getting out of it or going out of bounds,” he said. “I hit that move on him, so I ended up winning that match 7-3.”
That wouldn’t be Gress’ final close call. He met third-ranked Jeff Redford from Beech Grove in the semifinals, and once again found himself behind on points late. But another late takedown with four seconds left allowed Gress to avoid defeat.
“I kept getting a couple real close shots,” he said. “Towards the end I hit a high crotch, switched off to a double (leg) and got that takedown. Pulled that match out by a point.”
Gress then faced top-ranked Ty Baker from Clinton Prairie in the final round. This time he went to work early, nailing a takedown off the sloppy fireman’s carry before almost pinning Baker in the first period. Gress and Baker got tied up in the second and third periods, but Baker was unable to do anything with Gress. The action stopped briefly toward the end of the third period after Baker suffered a shoulder injury, but Gress went on to win a 4-1 decision and became the first Dubois County state wrestling champion. He finished that season with a 38-1 record. Greg Matheis, then a Jasper senior, won the state heavyweight title later that day.
“It was a relief,” said Gress. “I worked so hard, and I wasn’t going to let it slip away. That was a great moment.”
Gress dedicated his performance to his mother, Doris, who wasn’t able to make the match after her release from the hospital that prior Thursday. She was hospitalized with complications from multiple sclerosis. Gress pointed to her as the source of his toughness.
“That was important to me,” Gress said. “I told her I’d win it for her. She couldn’t go to a lot of matches at the end because she was in the hospital. I’ve learned a lot of toughness from her. That was pretty cool.”
Gress saw his state run as a culmination of his entire wrestling experience. All the work he put in during his middle school years and the first three years of his high school career allowed him to finish his last match as a champion. The years that have passed since then have given him a new perspective on how rare that is.
“Nobody did it at the time,” said Gress. “I guess it’s a little harder to do than I figured because nobody else has done it since.”
Gress now uses that experience as a teaching tool whenever the opportunity presents itself. He came back to Southridge this past winter to share some of his experience with the current Raiders before the start of their season, and even spoke with senior Sam Schroeder before he went on to state. He also shares his experience with his own kids, and thinks wrestling is great for illustrating life lessons.
“You try to teach them work ethic and all that good stuff,” he said. “I’ve used it a lot for that purpose. It’s a great sport to teach kids hard work and accomplishment.”
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