During the state wrestling semifinals last year, Barnsdall Panther Caleb Hawes defeated Vian’s Cale Mays in a close overtime decision, before Hawes went on to be the Class 3A State Champion Runner Up.
So Hawes, now a junior, was left scratching his head a bit when Mays, a senior, was ranked No.1 and he was No. 2 at the Regional Tournament this past weekend. But Hawes hadn’t competed since the Barnsdall Homecoming match against Tonkawa on Jan. 15.
“We didn’t even know if he would be able to wrestle again this season,” his father, Brian Hawes said.
In a previous dual, Hawes had been scratched in the face and got what his parents and doctors first assumed was a staph infection. Hawes started off his Tonkawa match with what looked more like a cigar burn than a scratch by his right eye, his dad said. Mid-match, another cigar-like burn appeared by his mouth, and by the end of the match he had another above one of his eyes.
The following day, Wednesday, doctors prescribed antibiotics, which seemed to have no effect. By Friday, it looked worse. Since the Haweses couldn’t get Caleb into a dermatologist, they took him to the Owasso emergency room. He ended spending a full week in the hospital as doctors ran tests, according to Brian.
Eventually, doctors discovered it was a skin virus, similar to cold sores, chicken pox or shingles, Brian said.
“It looked pretty nasty on his face for a few days,” Brian said. But after proper treatment began, the abrasions started to clear up.
Caleb has been wrestling for 13 years and his father was also a wrestler. It’s not uncommon that wrestlers pick up fungal or bacterial illnesses from the mats, which are often warm, moist breeding grounds.
“We’ve had ringworm here and there but never anything like this,” Brian said.
Caleb returned to a running workout after getting out of the hospital, but couldn’t go back into full contact for another week. About a week and a half before the Class 3A Regional Tournament, he headed back to the mat with his teammates, preparing for hard fight.
“When you miss a week and a half of practice it’s tough to come back,” Brian said.
“Coach Wilson ran us a lot when I got back,” Caleb said. But he was still working himself back into top shape. A month after his last match Caleb returned to compete in the Regional Tournament.
“I wasn’t really nervous… I wanted to prove a point on why I should have been No. 1,” Caleb smiled.
And he did, beating Mays in a 3-1 decision for the regional title.
It was no easy task after spending time in the hospital.
“It’s pretty amazing when you take off a month’s time… to come back and compete the way he did,” Head Coach Sean Wilson said.
As the regional champion, Caleb is going into the State Tournament ranked at No. 2. Mays is behind him at No. 3. It’s not out of the question that the two will meet again, but first Mays will have to get past the No. 1 in the state, Ethan Walker of Heritage Hall.
“I think he can upset Walker,” Caleb said. “Mays has really come along this year. He’s a lot stronger than he was last year.”
Hawes remembers that Mays took both his timeouts in the state semifinals last year. “He didn’t need his timeouts this year,” Caleb said.
Even with his time away from the mat and illness, Hawes is ready to win a state title. “I’ll be ready for it,” he said.
Caleb is the only Panther competing, but Pawhuska’s seniors Taylor Priest (120 lbs) and Zalin Edwards (160 lbs) will also be heading to state. Skiatook’s seniors Ricky Kriege (113 lbs) and Mitch Ray (195 lbs) will grapple in the Class 5A State Tournament. Each class begins wrestling at the Oklahoma City State Fairgrounds on Friday.