Wrestler Amed Castro-Chavez of Estherville-Lincoln Central High School in Iowa felt helpless as he watched his wrestling rival collapse on the mat during a match before Christmas. The other wrestler, Austin Roberts of Spencer, died hours later at nearby Spencer Hospital.
But in the final home dual meet, Castro-Chavez forfeited the match in honor of his fallen friend. Everyone watching him in the gym was stunned and awed at his generosity.
Roberts went 14-0 during his senior season until he collapsed at the Spencer Tiger Invitational on Dec. 19. His rival, Castro-Chavez, had lost to Roberts earlier in the season. Last Thursday, when the team returned to Spencer, there was no one to wrestle Castro-Chavez in the 220-pound weight class that Roberts had been in.
Had Spencer been forced to forfeit, Castro-Chavez would have gotten six points for his team, which was trailing 22-3. In the midst of doing warmups, he stopped and walked to the bleachers, where Lori Roberts, Austin’s mother (in boots in the front row in the photo above) was seated with Austin’s grandfather.
Castro-Chavez told the Sioux City Journal, “I wanted to show Austin’s family respect because they are grieving. I told Austin’s mom that I wished I could wrestle Austin again because he was such a good wrestler.”
In the Spencer Field House where the match took place, the crowd stood up and cheered.
Nate Shaughnessy is a columnist for the Spencer Daily Reporter. He told the Sioux City Journal, “It’s not often hairs stand on the back of your neck at a high school sporting event… There are touchdowns and dunks and goals, but I’ve never felt anything quite like those few minutes in the Field House.”
“Thank you,” said Dennis Roberts, Austin’s grandpa, when he shook hands with Castro-Chavez. The high schooler told him, “It was an honor to wrestle Austin.”
Sioux Center coach Aaron Schmidt recalled the match where Austin collapsed and couldn’t continue. “The score was tied and we were on bottom and got set and he went to get on top of us and asked for injury time. It seemed like he was not quite able to catch his breath … it wasn’t anything that was alarming or anything serious at that point.”
Mayor Reynold Peterson earlier called Roberts’ death a tragic loss for the community.
“He was a fine young individual in the community and school,” Reynolds said. “There’s been a tremendous response; it has been a total shock.”
Roberts had to leave the match after the injury time expired, but was able to meet his opponent and shake his hand. Nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary for a wrestling match. However, at 9 p.m. Roberts was pronounced dead. After an autopsy, his death was ruled to have occurred due to natural causes.
Jim Tighe, who also coached Roberts on the football team, described him as a nice kid, a hard worker and always ready to help out.
“He was engaging,” Tighe said. “You couldn’t help but like him. Everyone liked him.”
Austin’s fond memory was evident in the gym Thursday when Castro-Chavez walked off the mat. Randy Cauthron, the high school wrestling announcer for the Spencer Municipal Utilities cable television outlet, described the scene with fellow announcer Craig Manning, but they were mostly speechless as they let viewers merely take in the scene.
“It was so spontaneous,” Cauthron said. “We kind of stepped back and watched and listened. The fans were on their feet for a long, sustained period.”
The Thursday match was the Tigers’ first since Austin’s death. Castro-Chavez’s choice to forfeit didn’t impact the ultimate victory by the Tigers, but in its own way was the most important gesture of the tournament.
Nate Shaughnessy mentioned in his column that the generous gesture by ELC allowed everyone to see and embrace the moment.
Every so often, we see stories like this that remind us what true sportsmanship is all about. Athletes, from the pros on down, and all of us, can learn a lesson from Castro-Chavez’s remarkable act.