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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.
Brandon's Mike Ettore reacts Saturday to his loss in the 152-pound match. Brandon's youth wrestling program is so famed that athletes nationwide come to train.
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
Brandon coach Russ Cozart talks to Mike Ettore after the wrestler's loss in the 152-pound match of the tournament final against South Dade. The Eagles had their record run end at 459 consecutive dual match victories.
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
South Dade coach Victor Balmeceda accepts the trophy Saturday from Brandon coach Russ Cozart.
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
Brandon's Eric Grajales, left, watches the second-to-last match. South Dade forfeited Grajales' weight category; his match in the semifinals was a quick pin.
BRANDON -- "The Streak" is over.
The Brandon High wrestling program's national record of 459 consecutive dual match victories -- the longest for any high school sport -- was snapped Saturday night by South Dade, which, at 9:02 p.m., sealed its 32-28 history-making victory in the finals of the Jim Graves "Beat the Streak" Tournament.
The streak, started nearly 34 years ago from scratch in near-empty gyms before the Bucs existed, the Vietnam War ended and ESPN was created, was broken in front of about 800 fans and an ESPN camera crew.
The Eagles, coming off a come-from-behind 37-22 victory over Manatee in the semifinals, were stunned as South Dade took a 22-3 lead they would never relinquish. Brandon pulled to 28-22 with two matches to go, but could get no closer. As South Dade fans chanted "Beat the Streak! Beat the Streak!" South Dade senior Tico Baez held on for a major decision. The crowd gave a standing ovation to both teams; one side wiping back tears, the other grinning from ear to ear.
"We broke that history," Baez said. "Even the guys that weren't supposed to win, they overcame their fears and won the match ...This means the world to me. We'll never forget this. Never."
Before Saturday, no team had come within 20 points of Brandon since 2002 Bloomingdale, which was the last team to get within 10 points (1989). But heading into the tournament, many in the Brandon program felt this would be the toughest challenge to the streak in 20 years. Half the Eagles' starters, including seven state placers, had graduated and the field featured the top four teams in the state (South Dade was No.3).
"What this streak has done in this town, this school, is given it a cornerstone, a gem, a diamond to look at -- to hold up," said Brandon coach Russ Cozart, who is 385-1 in 28 years leading the Eagles. "Our wrestling program has gone from a coach who knew nothing to one of the elite programs. This is a great wrestling spectacle."
The Eagles program, started in 1969, transformed from doormats to dominant. For the first couple years, the team had no mats or singlets. It practiced in tennis shoes on the stage of an auditorium, taping together 4-by-6-foot mats off the gym wall. To save money, team reused the same roll of athletic tape all season.
Jim Graves, for whom this weekend's tournament was named, was the Eagles' third coach in three years when he took over in 1971 even though he "didn't know anything about the sport."
They learned together. For practices, Graves brought in old filmstrips, teaching fundamental moves. The Eagles went 3-10 in 1972.
The streak included 66 individual state champions and 18 team titles, including seven straight (all of which are state records). Wrestlers moved in from all over the country to train with Brandon's youth wrestling program.
For athletes like junior Eric Grajales, one of the many generational members of the streak (his older brother, Cesar, was also a state champ), the streak meant "everything." Grajales' family built a home near Brandon so their sons could wrestle.
"The streak is what our team is built on," Grajales said.
Graves said he first used the streak to get publicity for his program. Ever since it has been a great source of pride for the former Eagles stars, many of whom came to support the "family."
"Nobody wanted to be on the team that got beat," Cozart said. "But let's face it, this is a world record that just came to an end. It's not the end of the world."
For Brandon junior Kevin Timothy, it was "too soon to comprehend" his place in history. Timothy wasn't born when the Eagles last lost (Manatee beat Brandon 29-18 on Feb. 20, 1973, then tied Jan. 25, 1974. But as he held back tears in the near-empty locker room, Timothy made a pledge: