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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Cleveland High School's Cody Chittum, top, wrestles Jefferson County's Landon Fisher in the 145-pound championship match during the TSSAA Class AAA state traditional tournament at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Feb. 26, 2021.

This weekend provided a pleasingly surreal moment for Shane Chittum.

As his son Cody was growing up, the two of them would frequent the Southern Scuffle, with the young wrestler dreaming of someday competing in the two-day tournament hosted by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

On Saturday evening, Shane looked onto one of the mats at UTC's McKenzie Arena and saw his son jogging around, preparing for a match in the quarterfinals on the opening day of this year's event.

"In 2013, Cody was 9 years old and we came to this event and we were spectators," Shane said Sunday. "It's father and son enjoying the moment, and now we've been on this journey for 10 years."

Cody Chittum's dream came true — and perhaps a year or two earlier than could have been expected by the former Cleveland High School standout, who last year helped the Blue Raiders to TSSAA Class AAA titles in state duals and traditional tournament competition.

Chittum advanced to the Southern Scuffle quarterfinals Saturday before dropping his final two matches, a pretty good run considering he's still considered a high school student. Shane said he petitioned to have Cody compete in the event unattached and wanted to "see where he's at before he goes to college."

Not that Cody minded. He was more disappointed about a high-ankle sprain that caused him to lose his last match Saturday and have to forfeit Sunday.

"Since I was young, I've watched the Scuffle, and it was a cool opportunity to be a high schooler that's part of a college tournament," he said. "You see other people that you've watched their technique, and now you're getting to wrestle against them."

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2021 Southern Scuffle wrestling tournament at UTC

Chittum currently attends the Apex Learning School, an online-only program that helps accelerate the graduation process. Chittum completed his junior year of high school in December and is expected to graduate this summer, which will allow him to start college in the fall semester at the University of Minnesota; he has already committed to continue his wrestling career with the Gophers.

After winning a 120-pound state championship as an eighth grader at McCallie, the Cleveland native spent his freshman season at the Blair Academy in New Jersey, then wound up enrolling at Cleveland in January 2021 and competing for the Blue Raiders, winning all 10 of his matches on his way to the 145-pound state title in AAA. He won each of his four matches in the state tournament by pin.

He's currently the country's top-ranked 145-pounder and one of the top overall wrestlers in the nation, according to multiple publications.

"I grew up right down the street from the (Allan) Jones Wrestling Center, so I had wrestled with those guys a bunch," Cody said of his time at Cleveland High School. "I liked being a part of that family, the family I've grown up with my whole life when we would go to the same Scuffle tournament.

"Even though it was just one year, it was still very special to me."

Just like weekends like this past one are special to his father.

"You've got your sorrows about it, but you also know it's the right thing for him," Shane said. "You realize that when they're young, every day matters and every sporting event is stressful, but as they get older, it's actually easier.

"Yesterday was a sign that he's growing up and officially leaving."

 

Mocs medal

UTC had two medalists at the tournament, which returned after a year off due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Brayden Palmer, a sophomore who was not among the top eight seeds in his bracket, rallied after losing his first-round match to finish third at 133 pounds. Fourth-seeded Fabian Gutierrez placed sixth at 125, with the sixth-year senior winning way into the semifinals before losing by decision and forfeiting due to injury.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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