Without a doubt, Brian and Abby Manley occupied the worst seats Thursday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena for the biggest wrestling victory of their son’s life.
Missouri freshman Matt Manley’s parents sat in Section 108, watching him battle on the opposite side of the arena floor. Brian and Abby had to keep score themselves, though, because another scoreboard blocked the one tracking their son’s match.
“The thing that was killing us was the clock,” Brian said. “We were just yelling at people either way, ‘How much time?’”
The three-time Oklahoma state champion from Perry won in the second sudden victory period, securing an upset win over Kent State’s Mack McGuire in the first round of the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Manley, an at-large selection in the 133-pound division, lost later in the day to No. 1-seeded Joe Colon of Northern Iowa in the second round. But for a lifelong wrestler who once wore headgear to his elementary school on “Hat Day,” Thursday represented a dream come true.
Manley is the first Perry High product to qualify for the NCAA Wrestling Championships since Oklahoma All-American Jake Hager in 2006.
“I like to make everybody from back home proud,” Matt Manley said. “We have a rich tradition, and I like to keep carrying that on.”
Perry’s wrestling tradition is well-documented. The small town located just northwest of Stillwater off Interstate 35 has produced more individual state champions than any other high school program in the country.
Scott Chenoweth coached the Maroons to 12 team state championships in his 16 years leading the program. He coached Manley through his junior season, stepping down in May 2011 to become the school district’s superintendent.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve had a Perry wrestler in the tournament,” Chenoweth said. “I was very pleased when he got selected and got into the tournament, and then he got him a win in the first round.”
Manley’s youth coaches joined several family members and friends — including all of his old Perry teammates — in the stands Thursday.
Brian and Abby Manley made it to three Missouri home duals this season and watched him wrestle in Oklahoma against the Sooners and Cowboys.
His parents always expected that Matt would end up wrestling somewhere in Oklahoma, but neither of the state’s big programs showed much interest.
In Thursday’s first round, Matt overcame a two-point deficit with a third-period takedown to send the match to overtime, then scored another takedown in sudden victory two to earn a 7-5 victory.
“I feel great the later the match goes,” Manley said. “Our conditioning is on another level compared to everybody else, so the longer the match goes, the more confident I get because I know the other guy is gonna get more tired than I am.
“I just noticed he was tired and kinda dazed looking, so I just … kinda like a spear. I just went for it.”
He took Colon to the brink before falling 5-1 in the second round Thursday night, but Manley still has a chance at an impressive finish when he returns for consolation matches Friday.
“It’s been a pretty crazy ride so far,” Brian Manley said as he began to choke up. “I mean this is the pot at the end of the rainbow, right here.
“You spend thousands and thousands of dollars putting these guys up and down the road, from the first and second grade. This is what you try to get right here. This is the dream. One in a thousand kids get to do this.”