The first time Cary Academy wrestling head coach Eric Moore tried to recruit Matthew Gibbon to his sport, Gibbon was a seventh-grader who said he preferred basketball.
Never mind he stood 4-foot-6 and played on the third of the three seventh-grade basketball teams at the private school, which has seventh through 12th-grades on its campus.
“Basketball wasn’t the best use of my time,” Gibbon now says with a laugh.
Moore pitched wrestling to Gibbon again as an eighth-grader, and this time he agreed to try the sport on a trial basis.
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Five years later he’s grown to 5-foot-3 and stands tall on campus as a state champion in a sport for all sizes.
He won the 120-pound state title of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association last season.
He also accepted a role vital to the program by helping Moore scour campus and recruit other novices to join him.
“I think I got about five to come out this year,” said Gibbon. “I tell kids how much I enjoy it and how much stronger it will make them.”
And thanks to his persuasive skills – no doubt aided by his gold medal – the 34 wrestlers on Cary Academy’s squad this year are believed to be a program high.
“Most of our kids don’t know anything about wrestling when they start here,” said Moore, a former N.C. State wrestler in his 12th season as the Chargers’ head coach. “We count on the culture of the program. When younger kids see how Matthew and others on our team are good students and enjoy wrestling, they want to join our team.”
With Gibbon’s recruiting goal behind him and the season underway, his attention turned to joining Miguel Alecio as Cary Academy’s second multi-time state champ. Alecio, who went on to wrestle in the Ivy League at Brown University, won state titles in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The school’s other two state champions are Alex Rosenthal (2008) and Ian Siegal, who won as a senior in 2014.
“I loved it right from the start,” Gibbon said of that first practice. “I like the mentality. It’s you against someone else; you can’t blame anyone. It’s just you in an individual match, but it’s a team sport as well. There is a team dynamic to it.”
Gibbon continued his soccer career in the fall as a freshman and sophomore, but he devoted all his time to wrestling after his sophomore year when he finished third at the state meet. The result was bittersweet for him.
He was leading his semifinal match by four points when he was suddenly reversed for two points and put on his back for a three-point near-fall to lose by one. His opponent then went on to lose in the state final to a wrestler Gibbon had defeated earlier in the year.
“When he lost the semifinal that was the most upset I’ve ever seen him,” Moore said. “I reminded him there was still a medal to get and to turn his focus to his next match. The next two kids he dismantled to take third.”
But third wasn’t good enough. He gave up soccer and devoted himself to wrestling year-round.
“I realized I needed to spend more time training,” Gibbon said.
Gibbon is considering attending N.C. State for computer science, although he says he’s unsure about a college future in wrestling. But he has left a legacy that contributed plenty to Cary Academy’s future.
“We want to keep the tradition going,” he said of the motivation to recruit younger wrestlers. “We want the younger guys to take over.”