AARON HENDERSON JR., then 8 years old, wrestles a competitor to the mat en route to one of his many victories.

It’s just like advancing all the way to the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the National Championship Game.

No way can that happen without talent and hard work, lots of encouragement, and lots of skill.

Aaron Henderson Jr. has all those traits.

The 9-year-old from the Woodland Hills School District advanced from a field of 32 junior wrestlers in the state to the final two, in the Pennsylvania Jr. Wrestling State Championship, held in March.

First, Aaron took home first-place honors in Area 7, as he represented that district in the state tournament. On his journey through the state tournament, Aaron took down players from Hempfield Area, Smethport, Abington, and Saucon Valley. He fell in the first-place match to Keegan Bassett of Forest Hills.

Still, Aaron made mom proud.

AARON HENDERSON JR., with his mother, Joelisa McDonald.

“While most kids practice year-round, we only compete during the season and move on to another sport,” Joelisa McDonald said of her son, Aaron. “This is what makes Aaron’s win (in Area 7) such a big deal. He is a novice wrestler with about 10 months experience. Most novice wrestlers don’t even consider (going to) states within their first year.”

McDonald told the Courier the story of Aaron hearing about “going to states.” She said Aaron heard that was a place “you should want to go, and said that he was going this year, and I said, ‘OK, we are going then.’”

Of course, anyone can go to “states,” officially known as the state championships; but not as a competitor. You can go as a spectator, the media…who knows, you could even work the event. But everyone knows Aaron was speaking of going to states as a competitor.

AARON HENDERSON JR., at the Pennsylvania Jr. Wrestling Championship.

“This was our longest season because he knew from the start that he wanted to go to states. It was kind of funny to hear him declare that because neither of us really knew what it was or meant,” McDonald said.

These days, mom and son are very familiar with “going to states.”

“He has come a long way in this sport, although it didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself,” McDonald said. “I knew this would be a great sport for him because he has always been naturally strong and that is what most people know him for on the mat.”

Many kids Aaron’s age may check out the flashy lights, ebullient wrestling outfits and scripted trash talk that encompasses WWE Raw or WWE Smackdown. But Aaron’s type of wrestling is the exact opposite—it’s actually…real.

USA Wrestling says there are seven basic skills to the sport—stance, motion, level change, penetration, lifting, back step, and back arch. Other crucial skills include setting up takedowns, pummeling, wrist control, and hand fighting.

These are skills that Aaron (who competed in the 8 years of age category) used on his way to winning the Area 7 crown and advancing to the state championships.

For McDonald, wrestling teaches her son some life lessons. “I know what the odds are for our men so I’m really big on keeping him busy and out of harm’s way,” she said. “He is a very strong-willed, emotional kid, and in wrestling, you have to stay focused and in control of your emotions in order to win. Wrestling is a very functional and positive outlet for ‘A.J.’ I wish I can sign up all the kids in our neighborhood. When you’re on the mat, it’s just you and your opponent. It makes you hold yourself accountable, it teaches you survival without weapons and it’s fun. The lessons you learn in wrestling will stay with you forever.”

 

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