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Athlete without title is in state of urgency

Lecanto two-sport star Harold Skidmore has one last chance to capture the state championship that has eluded the senior.

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


LECANTO -- Harold Skidmore has been close.

Painfully close.

Close enough to feel the medal around his neck, to hear the announcer say the words, "Harold Skidmore, state champion," to see his name in the record books.

But things never quite worked out.

Once, with a state title in his reach, Skidmore lost to a better opponent. Once, he was victimized by what he thought were debatable calls by an official. Another time, he led at the halfway point but stumbled down the stretch.

"I don't know if I'm unlucky or what," said Skidmore, a senior wrestler/weightlifter at Lecanto. "It's not like I've crumbled under the pressure. I think I do well when the heat is on. It's just that a lot of big matches in my life haven't gone my way."

Time is running out.

A wrestling career that produced 140 wins ended with a frustrating loss in the final of the 130-pound division in the Class A meet. With one shot left at winning that elusive state crown, Skidmore is putting everything he has into weightlifting.

"It would be great to be a state champion," Skidmore said. "At least I could say those words."

'Still hurt'

To understand Skidmore's pain, you have know this: He's a wrestler.

This is how he defines himself. It is his skill, his job, and well, his life.

Skidmore is successful in class and with weightlifting, but make no mistake, he was born with two feet on the mat.

His passion is hard to describe. He tries to explain, but few get the picture. When he wins, he feels something he cannot put into words. When he loses, his body turns numb.

For four years, he ran all the miles, cut the weight, ate the right foods and studied his opponents. And yet, in his eyes, he came up empty.

"I guess I'm still hurt," Skidmore said. "It hurts not to be able to say I'm a state champion.

"A lot of people say, "It's not the end of the world.' For everybody else, it's not, but this is my life, this is what I do. This is what people know me as, and if I'm not the best, what's the point?"

Skidmore made an immediate impact unpon joining the Lecanto wrestling team as a ninth-grader. He reached the state meet that year, but didn't place. The following season, he again advanced to state, finishing fifth.

As as junior, Skidmore's expectations rose, as did his skill level. He finished 38-5 and second at state in the 119-pound division after losing 6-1 to Live Oak Suwannee's Andy Bricker in the final.

"Last year, when he lost, he felt it was fair and square," said Jane Skidmore, Harold's mother. "This (year), it was pretty bad. There were a lot of controversial calls, so it was a lot harder to swallow."

Skidmore seemed destined to win in 2001.

He had the experience, the skills, the drive. And, he had paid his dues. Last summer, he placed ninth in a national freestyle meet in Fargo, N.D. Thanksgiving weekend, he was second in another big event in Alabama. Then, over winter break, he took second in the Sunshine Open in Fort Lauderdale.

As his senior season progressed, it became more obvious with each victory that Skidmore, competing at 130 pounds, would be among the favorites to capture the state title. He lost once during the regular season and cruised to district and regional championships.

Skidmore arrived at the Class A meet in Lakeland with a 38-1 record.

In recents months, he had picked up wins against two of his possible opponents -- Joe Goldman of Fort Lauderdale University and Ivan Enriquez of Miami Belen Jesuit.

Skidmore met Goldman in the semifinals and won 5-2.

In the final, Skidmore's luck turned.

He led Enriquez 10-7 with 11 seconds left, but Enriquez scored an escape and a takedown to tie it 10-10 and send the match into overtime. There, he scored a two-point takedown with 1:17 left to win it 12-10.

"I feel like I won that match," Skidmore said at the time, "and so did everyone else who saw it. They took three takedowns away from me. I guess I didn't push the way I needed to in overtime."

Skidmore remembers every detail from the final moments of his last match, which seemed like it was moving in slow motion.

"It was so close," he said. "I was right there. All I had to do was let him go and walk around for 12 seconds. I looked over at the clock and was like, "Oh yes, I can't lose.' I remember thinking that. I heard the announcer say, "We have overtime.' I heard everybody screaming, "Ivan, Ivan.' My coach was screaming at me, "You tough it out, you suck it up, one last takedown.'

"I remember looking around and my coach was talking, and I heard everybody chanting. I saw Ivan walking around. I couldn't catch my breath, and everything was burning. My legs were burning. It was so intense at that moment. It was just like a movie."

And afterward?

"When I heard the buzzer, I laid on the mat for a minute and my heart sank," Skidmore said. "I walked over, raised Ivan's hand, and I wanted to strut off the mat and get out of there. I remember hearing my coach talking to me, but I don't know what he was saying. I went to the bathroom and sat on the floor and thought about it. There was so much emotion I couldn't really deal with it. It wasn't like it was real. It didn't seem real at all."

Several minutes later, Skidmore's friends found him alone, sitting on -- of all things -- a wrestling mat.

"They just looked at me," Skidmore said. "They didn't know what to say."

Down, but not out

If anything, Skidmore is resilient. Two days after his storied prep wrestling career came to a nightmarish end, he was in the gym preparing to join the weightlifting team.

"I didn't want to sit around dwelling on it," Skidmore said.

"He was down, sure," Lecanto weightlifting coach Steve Sherland said. "Anybody that's that close is going to be down for awhile. But he's the kind of kid who's going to go on to college and do well. He'll bounce back."

He has. In his first weightlifting meet, Skidmore easily won in the 139-pound division after posting a 430-pound total. Three weeks later, his total rose to 485. His bench press is in the 285-pound range. His clean and jerk, in his own words, needs work.

To win a state title, he likely will need a total of at least 500 pounds.

In last year's state meet, Skidmore led the 129-pound division after posting a 255-pound bench press. He scratched on his first clean-and-jerk attempt at 180 pounds, then upped the ante and moved to 190 pounds. He failed on back-to-back attempts and ended up not even placing.

"I was nervous," Skidmore said. "I'm a lot stronger this year."

The state meet is April 21. "He's got a goal set of getting over a 500-pound total, which I think he can do pretty easily," Sherland said. "He's going to be right up there."

'I deserve it'

It appears Skidmore's story is headed for a happy ending.

A college in North Carolina that has a solid wrestling program is flying him up this week to take a look around. Skidmore would rather not give the school's name just yet, and one hardly can blame him for not wanting to jinx things.

Eventually, the pain will subside. But at least for now, Skidmore burns. He imagines how the medal around his neck would feel, and how sweet it would be to hear the announcer, just once, say the words, "Harold Skidmore, state champion."

"Why didn't I just get one last takedown?" Skidmore said. "I took (Rodriguez) down the whole match with ease. Why didn't I push myself and get one last takedown? It just irks me that I can't say I'm a state champion because I feel like I deserve it."

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