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Cousins make statement instead of state history

By BOB PUTNAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


LAKELAND -- Cesar Grajales Jr. had a chance to make history Saturday night.

The eighth-grader from Northside Christian was bidding to become the first wrestler from his school and the first middle-schooler ever to win a state title. If he won, he also would stay on track to become the first to possibly win five state titles.

None of it will happen.

Instead of making history, Grajales Jr. chose to make a statement.

Rather than win the 103-pound Class A state title at the expense of his first cousin and good friend, Jesuit's Alex Enriquez, Grajales Jr. decided not to wrestle. It was a move the two decided after last week's regional tournament. They had wrestled in the 103-pound final, which Grajales Jr. won in overtime. None of the relatives wanted to go through that gut-wrenching experience again.

"The only reason we wrestled last week was because we needed to be placed in the bracket for state," Grajales Jr. said. "But that was so hard. This week we felt the decision was ours, and we decided that if we got to the finals, we wouldn't wrestle."

The families of the wrestlers talked to Florida High School Activities Association officials after they won their semifinal bouts Friday night. They wanted to have co-champions if Grajales Jr. and Enriquez decided to double forfeit.

Gary Pidgott, associate athletic director for the FHSAA and the administrator for wrestling, said that Grajales Jr. and Enriquez would not be co-champions and that they would not receive medallions or have their names in the record book.

"We told them what the consequences would be if they decided to do this," Pidgott said.

Grajales Jr. and Enriquez waited until the 103-pound finals in Class 3A and 2A were finished before walking to the center of the mat and hugging each other.

It was the first time two wrestlers had forfeited their bout in the state finals.

"It is definitely the strangest thing I have ever seen," Pidgott said.

While it was not the type of history they wanted to make, it was the kind that mattered to their families.

"I promised them that we wouldn't make them go through something like that (wrestling each other) ever again," said Cesar Grajales Sr., who also is a coach at Northside Christian. "Those two are like brothers. My son doesn't need a state title to prove anything or make history. He already has won plenty of titles in freestyle and Greco-Roman.

"We know they are the two best wrestlers in the state. Hopefully, the state will eventually see that. For us, though, blood is thicker than water. The bottom line is he (Grajales Jr.) chose family over everything else."

Family also mattered to Dominic DeNunzio, the other Pinellas County finalist.

A 112-pound freshmen from Countryside, DeNunzio was trying to become the second member of his family to win a state title. His brother, Dustin, won a title as a senior for Clearwater Central Catholic in 1994.

DeNunzio was denied his quest. He lost to defending state champion Guy Gibson from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.

"I guess the difference was he (Gibson) had more experience," DeNunzio said. "It has given me something to look forward to the next couple of years."

Other top place-winners from the county were Osceola's Tom Ryan (215) and Gibbs' Dustin Keseleski (275), who each took third, and Gibb's Jason Plomatos (119), who took fourth.

In other news, Clay's Paul Cobbert won the Class 2A, 152-pound title to join Glenn Goodman as the only four-time state champions. Goodman wrestled for Tampa Catholic and Chamberlain and now is an assistant at Countryside.

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