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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Cesar Grajales lived and breathed wrestling at Brandon, all while staying near the top of his class.
As if the week before the state wrestling tournament didn't take enough of Cesar Grajales' time, add in some of the most challenging high school courses offered and a self-imposed pressure to be one of the best students in his Brandon senior class, and there wasn't a second to spare for anything else.
"Those days were tough," Grajales said. "There were days when I didn't want to read certain books. There's a lot of leisure time taken up that maybe other people had."
Grajales said there were times when he almost fell asleep in class because he needed to drop weight for an upcoming tournament. He knew there was schoolwork to do, but he was busy daydreaming about upcoming matches.
"You have to push that out of your head a little bit," he said. "I was usually able to suck it up."
He did more than that. The four-time state champion finished fourth in his senior class with a 6.2 weighted GPA.
He labored, putting in the extended time and energy it takes to wrestle for one of the nation's top wrestling programs. And his excellence in the classroom helped him land in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
To Grajales, it wasn't a choice he made. "It's the only thing I knew," he said. "I have to do it. It's just something I do."
His father, also named Cesar, remembers his son coming home from wrestling practice, eating dinner, doing his homework, then going to bed.
"He had to do so much work for wrestling," said Grajales, who said his son was first in the class going into his senior year. "(Without wrestling) there's no doubt in our mind he could have been first in the class. No.4 in the class and going to Pennsylvania? We'll settle for that."
Grajales said family members, competitive no matter what they do, pushed Cesar to be the best. Cesar even had competition from sister Melissa, who graduated fifth in the class in addition to playing volleyball and softball.
While Grajales doesn't have his career plans set, his father said they would not involve taking over the family business, a tire and auto shop in St. Petersburg.
"We want bigger and better things from him," he said. "The family business has been good for our family, but I'm sure the Wharton School of Business will bring him better opportunities. You always want your children to do better than you did."
Grajales lost only one match his senior season - in the Beast of the East semifinals. He was a key part of Brandon winning four of its five straight state team championships.
For Grajales, though, the work is only beginning. If combining school and wrestling at Brandon was tough, it will be even harder at Ivy-League Pennsylvania.
"It inspires me to know that I am doing the right thing," he said. "It's a challenge and I'm ready to step up."