0
Votes

A Mountaineer's Story

Robinson's Mickey Bennett successfully chases his dream of wrestling for West Virginia University.

photo

Setting his sights on joining West Virginia University's wrestling team, Bennett put in hours of extra work at camps during the summer to better his chances.

Mickey Bennett, a 145-pound wrestler for Robinson, had just about everything squared away to begin his transition to West Virginia University next fall.

He had paid his first-year tuition deposit and had a roommate and dorm assignment lined up, but a spot on the team's NCAA Division 1 wrestling team was still in limbo.

"West Virginia was my top pick for college," the senior said. "I had been looking at West Virginia for a while. I went to a camp there and hoped they would notice me."

Through various camps and fund raisers at West Virginia, Mickey had attempted to draw attention to his wrestling.

Mickey hoped his first-place finish at the Northern Region wrestling tournament would earn him a spot on Mountaineer's wrestling team.

No offer came.

His third-place finish in 145-pound class at the Virginia AAA state wrestling tournament didn't yield any news.

"It was getting upsetting," said Marcia Bennett, Mickey's mother. "We hadn't heard anything [about Mickey's recruitment]. We knew they had just recruited two other kids in his weight class. We were like 'What now?' "

Mickey Bennett faced a grim situation. It appeared he would have to walk on to the wrestling team and try to earn a spot over wrestlers who had been recruited — some of them national and state champions.

"If I had to walk on, then that's how it was going to be," Mickey Bennett said.

As it turned out, Mickey Bennett had been a Mountaineer all along. His family's worried frenzy over his wrestling career had kept them from performing a simple task.

"I didn't check the mail during the entire week of regionals and states," Marcia Bennett said. "I pulled out the mail and there was a 3-inch packet from West Virginia saying they would like him to wrestle for them."

Mickey Bennett's dream of becoming a Mountaineer goes back to his first day with the Robinson wrestling team.

Mickey, who played defense in football, wanted something to do during the off-season.

"For 10 years, I played football," he said. "After the season I wanted to try something new."

With no wrestling experience or any understanding of the sport, Mickey Bennett joined the Robinson wrestling team — one of the region's premier wrestling programs — as a freshman.

"When he came into the room, we didn't know what to expect," Robinson head wrestling coach Bryan Hazard said. "He was a tough kid to deal with, but as he started to gain experience and confidence, he shattered our expectations."

Marcia Bennett didn't know what to expect either.

"I remember picking him up and he was soaking wet. He came out and said, 'This is sweat,'" she said. "I thought he had gotten in a water fight. The next practice I picked him up and he was all wet again. After two or three more days, I realized he wasn't getting in a water fight."

Mickey Bennett spent a season on the junior varsity team where he found such early success that it prompted him to make a drastic change in his sporting life.

"I decided to quit football so I could focus on my wrestling," he said.

With a renewed focus, Mickey Bennett earned a few matches on the varsity roster in his sophomore year before earning a full-time spot as a junior.

When the season ended and other wrestlers played other sports or took time off, Mickey Bennett toiled on the mats, chasing his dream.

Mickey Bennett started going to as many wrestling camps as he could, finding any way to improve his skills.

"For two summers in a row, he went to over 30 days of camps," Marcia Bennett said. "He just did a lot of work while everyone else was going to the pool."

Hazard said it's uncommon for a wrestler to enter a program with no experience and reach Mickey Bennett's potential.

"There are people who have been national champions who did not start wrestling until their freshman or sophomore year," he said. But without prior experience, he admitted it can be difficult to achieve Mickey Bennett’s success."

With a resumé of impressive victories, Mickey Bennett embarked on his quest to gain the eyes of the West Virginia coaches.

He sent letters of recommendation, visited coaches at the school, attended fund raisers at WVU and wrestled at events where he might be seen by the coaches.

"You have to make yourself known to the coaches and Mickey did that," Marcia Bennett said. "He was going to make them want him."

Mickey Bennett said there was never a second school, there was only West Virginia. Hazard knew wrestling for WVU was a lofty goal.

"Up until the end of this year, I never would have expected him to wrestle at the Division 1 level," he said. "He didn't really have the awards, but he put in a lot of time and bought into what we were [teaching]."

The news that Mickey Bennett had earned a spot on the team righted some past disappointments in his young life.

"He's kind of come up short on things he wants," Marcia Bennett said. "It's nice that he finally got it. He worked hard for it."

Hazard said Mickey Bennett’s chance to wrestle for West Virginia is just one result of his hard work and dedication to the sport.

"Wrestling has made him a better person," Hazard said.