MACON, Ga. - Of the dozens of stories filling the Macon Centreplex during the championship round of the GHSA traditional state wrestling tournament Saturday, none were more compelling than two northwest Georgia athletes as different as they could possibly be.
The one connecting link between Gordon Lee's Alex Spires and Southeast Whitfield's Carlos Fraire coming into Saturday was that each was a senior seeking one last moment of glory. When the final match had been completed, they also shared the distinction of going out state champions.
Spires' story is one of a young man touched by tragedy who found the fortitude both to find his way as an individual and to pay tribute to the person who inspired him in his athletic endeavors.
Spires' father died early in 2012, sending the then-two-time state champion into a spiral and causing him to quit the sport. After much soul-searching he decided to come back for his final season, but it wasn't easy.
"I didn't really want to come back, but my dad was the reason I started wrestling and I knew he would have wanted me to," Spires said after a comeback championship-winning win at 138 pounds Saturday. "I wanted to win another state title for him, and today I knew he was watching and helped me pull it out."
Spires was surprised by Treulten County's Tyler Heath with an early takedown and trailed 6-5 after two periods. He was still down 8-7 with 19 seconds left when he pulled off a reverse and finished it off with a near-fall for a 12-8 win and a third individual title.
"He kind of threw me off guard with the ankle pick early," Spires said. "I knew at the end I had one last chance to hit the fireman's. Fortunately I got it, put him on his back and ended up winning. I felt good about the match going in, but in the second period I told myself that I had nothing to lose, to go for it."
Going for it might also describe Fraire's path to his first and only state title. The Class AAAA 220-pounder, a runner-up finish last year, had the worst possible start to his final match with Griffin's Telly Sloan on Saturday.
Forced out of bounds in the first period, Fraire landed awkardly and either strained or sprained his MCL. Noticeably limping, he managed an escape in the second round against the passive Griffin to tie the match at 1, but the pain was growing worse.
"I didn't want to take an injury timeout, " Fraire said, "because then he would have choice (up or down) in the third and I didn't want that, so I just pushed the pain away."
Fraire, though limited in what he could do, kept the pressure on, which resulted in a stalling point against Sloan and a 2-1 lead. Fraire was able to maintain the lead to win. He was then carried off the mat.
"This year was just my year," Fraire said moments before picking up his medal. "Losing last year in this round hurt, and with this being my senior year I didn't want to go out like that. It was hard. I had to push through the pain. It wasn't going to get better if I stopped. It feels real good to go out like this, because I've worked so hard."
Southeast coach Michael Herndon said Fraire was fighting through more than just his knee pain.
"He wrestled a great match," Herndon said. "He's tough. He's had injuries all year. He wrestled with a broken finger that match as wel, and his thumb has been bothering him all year. Nothing was going to keep him from wrestling, and we're very proud of him."