Howard and Meador capture All-State wrestling honors
BIG PINEY – The Ford Wyoming Center in Casper filled with fans as the first-place matches began at the 2A State Wrestling Championships on Saturday, Feb. 25.
“When you’re down in the finals matches, everyone’s eyes are on you,” said Big Piney High School (BPHS) junior Jackie Meador. “The stadium was packed. The energy was awesome.”
Stepping onto the mat for the 2A championship round at 113 pounds, Meador took a deep breath.
“I told myself, ‘This is just another match. If you win, awesome. If you don’t, it’s just another match.’”
Meador shook hands with his opponent, Grady Longwell, of Glenrock. The referee blew his whistle.
“I was in control for the beginning of the match, but then I almost got pinned,” Meador said.
The second period ended in a 6-6 stalemate before Meador pulled ahead in the third period.
“It was a fight,” Meador said. “I was able to get ahead by 2 points in the third period and then I was able to get some nearfall points.”
The shot clock approached the final 10 seconds of the bout and Meador found himself ahead, 10-6.
“I had (Longwell) broken down on bottom,” Meador said. “I saw the towel tapper run right behind the ref. The ref was right in front of me, and I heard him start to count down the last 5 seconds of the match. That’s when I started to get excited because I knew I was the state champion.”
As Meador stood up, the referee lifted his arm, making the victory official.
“I started crying happy tears,” Meador said. “I’ve never placed at State before and really struggled the last couple of years to place at State. It was just an awesome feeling to win.”
Senior Thomas Howard waited in the wings for the 195-pound finals to begin.
The previous evening, Howard defeated Saratoga’s Quade Jordan by fall 3 minutes, 28 seconds into the semifinals.
“I probably hit one of my best shots of the entire year on (Jordan) to end the first period scoring,” Howard said. “In the second period, we ended up in a little scramble and I pinned him.”
For the second time in his high-school career – Howard bagged second place at State and All-State honors in 2021 – Howard found himself in the championship round.
As he warmed up for the finals, Howard calmed his nerves by singing to himself a “pirate shanty” from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Howard shook hands with his rival, Landon Walker, of Cokeville. The referee signaled the beginning of the match.
“You honestly forget about the crowds once you start wrestling,” said Howard. “Once that whistle blows, you’re not focused on anything else.”
Howard battled Walker into the second period of the championship bout.
“I was moving pretty well, trying to tire (Walker) out,” Howard said. “In the middle of the second period, I started down on bottom and almost got a standup on him. He threw in a half and I tried to roll him. Then he threw a half on the other side, so I ended up getting pinned.”
True to form, Howard accepted his second-place finish with grace and sportsmanship.
“This was my last match in my high school career,” Howard said. “I had some fun, wrestled pretty well and I really like the kid that beat me. We had a lot of fun conversations afterwards.”
Howard and Meador both received 2A All-State honors for their achievements at State.
A memorable season
The Big Piney Puncher boys’ wrestling team set the bar high at the 2023 State Championships. Nine athletes placed in the finals and the team earned 150 points – new records for the Puncher boys’ program.
Big Piney bagged third place at State and returned home with a state trophy for the first time.
The Punchers took second place at the 2A West Regional Championships in Cokeville on Feb. 17 – another first for the team.
Eighteen Punchers qualified for State at Regionals, tying the team record. Howard and Meador both snagged silver medals at the event.
“I love seeing our team do well, because it’s fun to be a part of that,” Meador said.
Howard agreed that the Punchers gelled at Regionals.
“Wrestling is an individual sport, but it has that team aspect, that honestly, no other sport really has,” Howard added. “When your whole team is wrestling well, usually you will wrestle well, too. That energy certainly helps everyone.”
Howard highlighted the annual Ron Thon Memorial in Riverton as a personal turning point in the season. Ron Thon is the largest meet in Wyoming after State. At Ron Thon, in contrast to State, wrestlers square off against opponents from all classifications.
“The stadium at Ron Thon gets packed and there’s so much energy on both days,” Howard said.
Howard learned to conquer his own mental roadblocks at Ron Thon, training his mind to be in the moment for each match and how to focus all his energies on the task at hand.
“You wrestle well when you’re calm,” said Howard. “That’s something that almost can’t be coached – it’s a hard thing to learn.”
Meador looked back to the Don Runner Invitational in Wind River on Jan. 13-14 as a “standout meet.” The Punchers trounced their opponents to capture first place with 211 points.
“The week before (Don Runner), we won the Shoshoni duel tournament,” said Meador. “In past years, we’ve been a really good duel team, but not so much as a tournament team. When we were going into the second day at Don Runner, and we were up by 30 points on the rest of the teams, I got really excited because we were about to win this tournament.”
Strength, stamina and skill
Success in wrestling involves technical knowledge, endurance and the ability to overcome physical and mental hurdles, a lesson Howard learned in middle school.
Howard began wrestling in sixth grade, although the sport did not feel like a fit at first. He only won one or two matches his first year. In seventh grade, Howard began to improve, and, by eighth grade, he realized he had a knack for the sport and a desire to stick with wrestling.
“As I improved in wrestling, I started enjoying it more,” Howard said. “I actually understood what was happening by eighth grade. That helped a lot, because I didn’t understand how the point system worked in sixth grade. I would just go out there and try to put my opponent on their back.”
Meador was only 4 years old when his parents enrolled him in a pewee wrestling program. He went out for wrestling at Big Piney Middle School. While he describes his performance in middle school as “decent,” the sport did not click for Meador until he became a freshman at Big Piney High School.
Meador knuckled down and put his energies into wrestling.
“My freshman year, after I didn’t place at State, I realized I only had three years left to wrestle,” Meador said. “I wanted to make something out of this – I wanted to be good at this. I didn’t want to go out without having anything to my name.”
Earning a state championship remained a dream for Meador until 2023.
“When it finally happened, it still felt like a dream,” he said.
The Punchers dedicated hours each week in the practice room preparing for meets. Exercises included “live wrestling,” or simulations of wrestling matches between teammates.
The Punchers also participated in what Meador called “drill wrestling.”
“We do certain wrestling positions, and one person practices moving out of that position for 2 minutes, then we swap,” Meador explained. “We do that two or three times in a row. Then we take a break and (Head Coach Cole) Clifford will introduce a new move and we start drilling again.”
Preparation also involved studying potential opponents and compiling “scouting reports” with coaches, said Howard.
“The effort you put in before a match even begins involves learning what your opponent is going to do,” Howard added. “Certain people will have a tick that they do every time they wrestle. They might touch their headgear, allowing you to get a shot.”
Ultimately, the mental and physical determination it takes to finish a three-period match or a bout that goes into overtime on top defines a wrestler.
“In practice, there are days when I’m struggling and I’ve been tired all day,” said Meador. “I just tell myself that I’m not tired anymore and that I just have to push through it. That can carry over into matches.”
Howard competed in two matches during the 2022-2023 season that went into overtime.
“Both of us were dead tired,” he said. “Success definitely has a lot to do with which one of us has more will. After a certain point, skill and strength aren’t going to help you. You have to want to win.”
In addition to wrestling, both Howard and Meador both played football for the Big Piney Punchers this fall. Howard plans to go out for track this spring.
Meador traveled to Salt Lake City to compete with the BPHS robotics team at the FIRST Robotics Regional Tournament on March 1-4. Howard represented BPHS at the annual TEAMS Competition (Tests of Engineering, Aptitude, Mathematics and Science) as a junior.
Howard plans to continue his studies after high school and is looking into a career in business or kinesiology, with the goal of becoming a chiropractor.
Meador is interested in pursuing aerospace engineering after high school. The junior intends to return to the mats as a Puncher wrestler his senior year to defend his state title.
Howard thanked his teammates, particularly senior Brandon Jones.
“They all pushed me,” Howard said. “Brandon gave me a lot of bruises at practice.”
Howard also expressed gratitude to the “amazing” BPHS wrestling coaches who fostered teamwork and taught life skills as well as grappling techniques.
Howard gave a shoutout to his family, coaches in other sports, teachers and the community for their support.
Meador thanked his coaches.
“We had four coaches this year, and they really built a bond with the team,” Meador said.
Meador recognized “anyone who has ever helped me wrestle in my life and helped me get to this point,” singling out his family.
“I had a lot of family support going into this.”