By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
The Tucumcari High School Rattlers wrestling team, along with 17 visiting teams, residents and families of the athletes, worked to pin a different type of opponent at the Rattler Invite, cancer.
Despite having been diagnosed recently with cancer, Rattlers head wrestling coach Eddie Encinias remains adamant that he will keep his focus on the young men on his team.
“I don’t want to take anything away from them and how they have been improving,” Encinias said. “Once the season is over, I’ll worry about myself and get into a tough match of my own.”
On Saturday, the Rattlers held their annual wrestling tournament that featured talent from across the state and the Texas Panhandle.
As part of a last-minute effort to raise money for Encinias’s future medical costs, assistant coaches Donnie Garcia, with his wife, Tina, and Tim Clark and his wife, Andrea, held raffles to raise over $600 and had shirts made up for show their support for Encinias.
“It really means the world to me that they did all of this for me,” Encinias said. “To see all of the staff, students and members of the other school wearing those shirts really choked me up.”
Encinias said in wrestling the teams — even opposing teams — develop family-type bonds. He said when in need, they will lend their support.
Encinias was quick to shy away from the spotlight and quickly turned the focus back on the Rattlers and the tough competition they faced at the invitational tournament. He said three Rattlers finished in fifth place: Paul Lucero, 132 pounds; Xavier Garcia, 160 pounds; and Antonio Norton Jr., 220 pounds.
Garcia said now that the tournament is over, “The main thing all of us need to focus on is working harder to get better.”
“We have to put the experience we gained to good use,” Lucero said. “It’s up to us to work on improving.”
Norton said during his championship semifinal match he lost focus and that cost him a chance at first place. He said even though it is early in the season, he and the team can’t afford to make those kind of mental mistakes.
The tournament gave state and Texas wrestling teams a chance to get in some much-needed mat time before the Christmas break.
Having several matches against these high-caliber opponents “will give us a lot of confidence going into the break,” said Jamis Montgomery, Sandia High School head coach.
Montgomery said he is impressed with how the Tucumcari invitational has grown over the years.
“This tournament had many of the schools we see all year in the Texas Panhandle, but it gives us a chance to see some really stout New Mexico teams,” said Sion King, head wrestling coach at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas.
King said the tournament had some tough matches for his wrestlers. He said Khalil Gipson, who wrestles at 220 pounds, is working hard to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish at the Texas state wrestling tournament.