Little wrestler, big heart

At the conclusion of his match in the 9,800-seat arena, 8-year-old Clinton Shepherd walked off the mat and into the arms of his father.

Joey Shepherd tossed his son into the air, caught him with both arms and then embraced Clinton with a hug.

While the two always celebrate in a similar manner, this tournament was different for the Shepherd family.

Clinton, a member of the Seymour Wrestling Club, had achieved All-American status.

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On April 9, the third-grader placed third in the National United Wrestling Association for Youth’s Nationals at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the 67-pound intermediate division.

Those finishing in the top 6 were named All-American wrestlers for their age and division.

Seymour coach Todd Weaver said he believes it’s the first time a member of the program has achieved All-American status.

“Clinton’s accomplishment is very big, especially for a wrestler with three years under his belt,” Weaver said. “We’ve had other kids on the national stage, but coming away with an All-American has been something that has eluded us for a time. There were at least kids from four other states outside of Indiana.”

Following a bye in the first round, Shepherd was knocked to the back of the bracket after falling to Frederick Hammond of Otisville, Michigan, in 2 minutes, 42 seconds.

Shepherd said that while the atmosphere was intimidating at first, he settled in after seeing the other wrestlers.

”It was kind of scary at first,” he said. “Once I noticed how they wrestled, I got confidence from that. I tried my hardest.”

Hammond went on to win his next pair of matches, as he was crowned national champion.

That opening loss didn’t deter Shepherd from finishing strong: he won his final three matches.

He won by an 8-2 decision and pin in 59 seconds to setup a match with Brody Kelly of Itasca, Illinois for third place.

In the final battle, Shepherd defeated Kelly by 10-3 decision.

”To wrestle back and wrestle so well and get third, he could have easily not even placed because the kids were so good,” Weaver said. “I watched a lot of his matches, and most of them came down to the wire. The last one, he really had to hold off a good kid and not get scored on.”

Joey, who is also an assistant coach with Seymour Wrestling Club, said it was a big moment for the program and the family.

”It was a proud moment,” he said. “(Clinton) does a great job and has a great work ethic. That’s important. He was aggressive and went after kids. He didn’t wait for them. He grabbed them as soon as the whistle blew and took care of business.”

Clinton qualified for NUWAY Nationals by placing second at the Hoosier Youth Wrestling Association for Youth State Championships in March.

”I love wrestling,” Shepherd said. “I like competing against people. I want to get better at competing. It was a surprising moment getting third place and also second at HYWAY State.”

Weaver said that Clinton works hard and loves what he does.

”We’re super proud of him,” Weaver said. “He has been coming to all the practices and getting as much as he can in. That’s all you can ask of for a little kid. You don’t have to push him to do it, he loves doing it.

”He enjoys it, which is super important. At this level, it’s the most important thing — you have to enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you shouldn’t go and wrestle.”