Wrestling In 2020-21 May Just Be A Vision Quest As NorCal Wrestling Stars Like Del Oro’s Damion Elliott Flee State For Chances At Competition •
Six months after he seized California Interscholastic Federation stardom by reaching the state finals as a sophomore, Del Oro-Loomis wrestler Damion Elliott found himself again thrust into a high-intensity showdown on an elevated stage.
Gingerly perched atop the roof of a Sacramento County home, Elliott knelt carefully and reached a gloved hand into a swath of twigs and leaves clogging a high gutter.
Several angry paper wasps suddenly swarmed out, driving Elliott up the shingles and away from trouble.
“I got everything but a front corner,” he shouted down. “You got wasps in there.”
The second-best 126-pound wrestler among California high schools is fearless on the mat, but he draws the line at perilous dogfights with winged insects.
Wasps aside, there are few jobs that Elliott won’t grapple these days. The handyman lifestyle supports his other — traveling the country to compete and preserve what he can from a promising prep wrestling season.
He only has one podium step to climb.
“Obviously I want to stay at a good competing level, and I am still training to try to keep that up,” Elliott said. “It would be nice to still have tournaments in California.”
Unlike most of the country, California has pulled the brakes on prep competition during the COVID-19 pandemic, joining the likes of Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and North Carolina.
On Dec. 1, the CIF followed the guidance of the California Department of Public Health and indefinitely postponed the start of 2020-21 sports. All practice and competition dates are on hold until further CDPH guidance is announced.
The decision presents a troubling challenge for prep athletes like Elliott. For the elite, wrestling will undoubtedly create opportunities for higher education and even a successful career. Elliott knows that even in a pandemic, he must train and compete against the best.
So he sacrifices.
Though he only recently turned 17, Elliott spends most of his free time working. He hustles for odd jobs on social media and is quickly expanding his skills and equipment.
“I’ve put up a roof, painted fences, worked with plaster, concrete, doors and windows — landscaping and moving rocks, cutting grass/weeds, cleaning gutters,” Elliott explained. “Pretty much whatever I can get my hands on, I’ll do.”
He isn’t saving up for recreation. With California wrestling sidelined, Elliott must travel across the U.S. to get matches in. Elliott’s hard work, along with some support from area wrestling clubs, enables his travels.
In the past few months he’s been to Oklahoma (twice), South Dakota and Idaho. On Jan. 15, he will leave the state for the 2021 Rockwell Rumble Wrestling Tournament at Utah Valley University.
Like nearly all of his out-of-state competition this year, Elliott will travel without his best teammate — his mom.
“I’m a single mom, so affording travel in general is challenging, and at this point, I just can’t go with him,” Starr Mackelvie said. “We are fortunate to be involved with the youth club (USA Gold), fundraisers, and a lot of it is saving every single penny.
“It helps that Damion does stuff on his own to make money.”
Mackelvie has only been on one wrestling trip this year, thanks to some saved up points from a Southwest flight that was cancelled because of COVID-19.
“I can probably count one time in the last year I had missed matches. So not being there has been very tough,” she said. “It helps that I absolutely trust him to be safe.
“He’s a responsible kid and he even catches me sometimes, like, ‘Mom, don’t forget your mask.’”
Responsibility has made the holidays even tougher.
Since Elliott returned from Oklahoma (World of Wrestling Kickoff Classic) in late November, the pair elected to stay home and miss the annual Thanksgiving gathering with Elliott’s grandparents.
“Skipping Thanksgiving with the family was a hard choice, but we have people in sensitive age groups with underlying health conditions in the family,” Mackelvie said. “His whole life, Damion has spent every single Thanksgiving with his grandparents, but this year we did it on FaceTime.”
Elliott’s father, Larry Bill Elliott Junior, died just a few days after Damion’s first birthday. It’s one reason why the bond between Damion and Mackelvie seems unequaled. When he wrestles, she squeezes as close to the boundary line of his mat as she can. Win or lose (it’s almost always a win), she saves the best smiles just for him.
“Since it’s just her, I talk to my mom about pretty much everything, and if I feel a certain way I don’t even have to say it,” Damion added. “She somehow knows already what I want to say.”
Damion’s dad lives on in the moments that matter most.
“Sometimes, if I don’t want to go to practice, or let’s say I’m cutting weight or down a few points in a match, I think that he’s watching me, maybe helping me out,” Damion said. “It’s like he’s with me, and it helps me clear my mind.”
Ten miles south of Elliott, senior Sean Myles, an Oakmont-Roseville wrestling sensation in the upper weights, anxiously awaits word on the biggest season of his life.
Myles, seventh at 170 pounds last year, is one of only two returning state medalists at his weight class. In fact, Myles is one of only nine returning wrestlers from CIF podiums in the entire 160-195-pound range (four weight classes).
Being poised as one of the big names of 2020-21 won’t mean much if Myles doesn’t get a senior year.
“It’s been so disappointing,” Sean’s mom, Saundra Myles said. “Other states have had successful fall seasons. Yes, they have had to cancel some stuff, but they got to play.
“We have just been sitting and waiting for the guidelines.”
Saundra is also an assistant principal at Oakmont and oversees Student Activities. She’s adamant about safely bringing kids back to school and anxious to see all students participate in athletics.
“Hopefully we can get this stupid pandemic under control and start moving on with our regular programming,” Saundra said. “I just want the kids to be able to learn, and I know my kids have a tough time distance learning.”
Sean was lucky to squeeze in a few recruiting trips (University of Nebraska at Kearney, Grand View University) this year. He’s wary of California’s collegiate wrestling experience, and for good reason.
In July, Stanford announced its intention to eliminate wrestling from its lineup of varsity sports, as part of a cut that included 11 other teams. A few months later, Fresno State followed suit, announcing intentions to cut a wrestling program that surged into the national spotlight with success in both recruiting and competition.
Both rosters were loaded with California prep talent, like 2020 star Peter Ming (Elk Grove to Stanford) and 2019 Vacaville talent Lawrence Saenz (transferred from Fresno State to Cal Poly).
Especially during COVID, wrestling is bleak in California. But for wrestlers like Elliott and Myles, making the best of the situation is all they have left for now.