Team manager Jacob Roberts is as much a part of the Holly Springs wrestling team as any of the Golden Hawks’ state-ranked wrestlers. He assists the team, which his brother is a part of, but mostly off the mat.
But Roberts, 16, wasn’t a behind-the-scenes helper when he had his chance to wrestle in an exhibition match in front of packed stands Jan. 25.
His opponent, Apex Friendship sophomore Alec Montoya, made sure the crowd got what it wanted to see: the popular manager, who has special needs, experiencing one unforgettable moment.
Montoya tussled with Roberts but succumbed to his takedown as the crowd chanted “Ja-cob, Ja-cob, Ja-cob.” Montoya fought to get up, but eventually Roberts flipped him to his back and got the pin.
“It felt good. I have a lot of friends that were cheering me on ... I just like doing that; that’s fun to me,” Roberts said. “I had to flip him over to his back and push him on the mat.”
Roberts couldn’t contain his excitement, jumping up and down at least 10 times and almost forgetting to shake hands with Montoya as he ran to his teammates, with his younger brother Joseph, 15, waiting for him.
Even the referee clapped.
“That was like my first match, so I got happy, very happy,” Jacob Roberts said.
Joseph Roberts tried to film the match on his phone but found himself with a shaky video afterward. He too had gotten pretty excited.
“It was the best feeling to see my brother just cheering and smiling and laughing and having fun,” Joseph said.
The idea to let Jacob wrestle had been in the works for months, Joseph said.
“I knew that I was going to enjoy wrestling and I knew they were going to enjoy Jacob being there,” Joseph said. “From Day One they were saying ‘It’d be nice to see Jacob wrestle.’ And they made it happen.”
Jacob has picked up some of the moves and techniques from being around the team and his brother. He’s also picked up a little added maturity, says his mother, Linda Roberts, from taking on the responsibility of being a manager.
Jacob sometimes gives advice to his teammates and has gotten more involved in practices. Like any other team member, he said he was happy to see coach Nick Nosbisch on Senior Night. Nosbisch was diagnosed with bile duct cancer on Dec. 1 and has missed most of the season recovering from surgery.
“Jacob feels like all the guys are like his extended brothers,” Linda Roberts said. “He just relishes being a part of the team. He adores them and they adore him as well. He’s very serious about his support.”
Joseph found out a day earlier that Jacob was wrestling but kept it a secret from his brother until the night of the match. Joseph told Jacob to warm up with the team and gave him some last-second pointers.
“I wanted it to be a surprise for him,” Joseph said. “He knows pretty much most of the moves. At night, he’ll ask me ‘What’s this for?’ and ‘What’s that for?’ and I’ll tell him.”
Montoya heard from friends on the Holly Springs team ahead of time about Jacob. It was an exhibition match, but Montoya said he would’ve approached it the same way had it been part of the varsity lineup.
“Even if it was like a real match and did count towards my record, it still wouldn’t have affected my (getting pinned),” Montoya said. “I just wanted to make him happy. Everyone said he was such a great kid so I was really excited for this whole thing to happen.”
Montoya could have chosen to end the bout one of several different ways.
Instead, he took the loss in dramatic fashion and gave it a realistic feel. He smiled when he watched the replay.
The Holly Springs coaches made sure to walk over and thank Montoya for his act of sportsmanship.
“I didn’t do it because I wanted to be recognized or anything,,” Montoya said. “It seems like he had a lot of fun and it probably changed his life quite a bit.”
Jacob’s still having a lot of fun with what happened that night.
“A lot of people watched it,” he said. “Well, I showed all my friends.”