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Mitchell McKee pinned Blaine’s Malik Stewart in 82 seconds for his first state title. After the victory, he ran to his father, later saying, “I wanted him as close to me as possible.”

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St. Michael-Albertville’s Mitchell McKee hugged father Steve after winning at 120 pounds. Steve McKee is undergoing cancer treatment.

Photos by MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

Wrestling champs keep it in family

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN
  • March 4, 2014 - 1:03 AM

 

The Class 3A individual wrestling tournament was as much a celebration of family as it was a determination of champions.

There was St. Michael-Albertville sophomore Mitchell McKee running over to give his father, stricken with cancer, a lengthy hug after winning the 120-pound championship as the crowd at Xcel Energy Center gave them a standing ovation.

Immediately after, McKee’s teammate Tommy Thorn completed a storied career with a 12-0 victory over George Farmah in the 126-pound final. It was the senior’s fourth consecutive championship and the 11th for the Thorn family, a state record for a single family.

A half-hour later, Apple Valley sophomore Mark Hall won his fourth state championship with technical fall over Henry Sibley’s Garrett Beaman. Hall didn’t go through the tunnel to exit the arena, he climbed the stairs in the stands, embracing each and every person who came to cheer him on.

“That’s really what wrestling is all about,” said John Thorn, patriarch of Thorn brothers Mike, David and Tommy. “So much work and so much effort goes into it. It’s hard to put into words.”

McKee had a plan when he made the finals. He wanted his dad to sit matside instead of in the stands. Steve sat proudly just feet away as Mitchell pinned Blaine’s Malik Stewart at 1:22 for his first state championship.

“I wanted him as close to me as possible,” Mitchell said.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Steve McKee said. “I’m pretty tired now, but there’s no way I would have missed this.”

Tommy Thorn had been aware of his chance to make history all season, but the magnitude of what he accomplished didn’t hit him until he left the mat as a champion.

“I had to jog a lap around the [arena] just to calm down,” Thorn said. “It’s just starting to hit me now. We’ve been talking about doing this all year, but to finally have it happen, it’s kind of surreal.”

Since arriving in Minnesota as a seventh-grader, Hall has carried the weight of high expectations. Wrestling for Apple Valley and being somewhat shy by nature, he is regarded cautiously by wrestling fans.

With a gym locker full of awards and accolades, Hall admitted he rarely gets nervous before a match. This year, however, was different. His foray into the stands to hug anyone within reach might have done as much to endear him as his four titles.

“This one is really special to me,” he said. “I have a lot of family members here and to do this in front of them means a lot.”

Apple Valley earned three more championships Saturday. Maolu Woiwor and Seth Gross won back-to-back titles at 132 and 138 pounds, respectively. It was the third state championship for duo, who are workout partners in the Apple Valley wrestling room.

“He’s [been] one of my best friends ever since we were little,” said Gross, a senior. “We push each other. Without him, I don’t think I’d be where I am right now.”

Apple Valley junior Bobby Steveson, who has made a verbal commitment to the Gophers wrestling team, won this 182-pound championship with a 7-0 victory over previously-undefeated T.J. O’Hara of Tartan, but younger brother Gable, an eighth-grader, lost the 195-pound title to Alexandria’s Justin Cumberbatch.

© 2014 Star Tribune