(Photos by Josh Mills, Staff)
SIKESTON -- "This is one of the biggest matches of your life. It doesn't matter if you win or lose, just do your best."
That was the pep-talk that 9-year-old Josh Stinnett received from his 12-
year-old brother Jacob last weekend before his championship match in the 53rd Annual Cliff Keen Tulsa Nationals junior wrestling tournament, held in Tulsa, Okla.
The short chat must have worked, as Stinnett rolled to victory 5-0 over his opponent, Joshua Bolin of Oklahoma. The win kept Stinnett's undefeated Tulsa record alive, as he outscored his opponents 30-0 over the course of the two days. (Jordan Strong, Neb. 10-0, Nathan Fowler, Kan. 15-0)
"I have to give credit to their parents," said Ruby. "They are great, and they support these boys no matter what. They deserve it."
Ruby went on to say that Bobby helps coach the squad at every tournament, and that it was right up his alley to coach his own two sons in the tournament in Tulsa, known as the "Toughest Tournament in the World."
"Bobby coached them," Ruby said. "But, we talked about every 10 minutes for three days."
"Bobby and Terry took them out there, and they weren't sure what to expect," he added. "Once they got there, they saw what it was all about. Kids were wrestling from all over the country."
Ruby added that the only state not represented in the tournament was Hawaii.
Although he's 9-years-old, Josh was allowed to wrestle in the 8-and-under bracket because his AAU card dates from how old he was at the beginning of 2008.
"Josh will step up to 10-and-under in March," Ruby said. "That's when he'll go to USA wrestling. The kids are a lot tougher and a lot bigger."
"He'll be okay," he added. "He's wrestled 13 and 14 year olds since being with the team. That's helped him, and we know we can pretty well count on Josh."
Josh said that the tournament was a great experience.
"The toughest kid I faced was Jordan Strong," said Josh. "He should've taken second, but clasped four times and was disqualified. He was winning 10-4."
Josh is confident about the busy upcoming schedule of AAU.
"AAU, I just breeze by that," said Josh. "USA is much harder than AAU."
Jacob also wrestled in the Tulsa tournament, just barely missing out on being placed.
"Jacob wrestled a tough bracket," said Ruby. "It was a 36-man bracket, and he missed placing by one match. He was in a bracket where it took nine matches to place."
Even after missing out, Jacob said that he remained supportive of his younger brother.
"It felt great to watch my brother win," Jacob said. "I was proud of him."
Jacob added that for the rest of the season, all he wants to do is record wins. He also added that he would like to return next year to Tulsa to give it another shot.
"It's the best tournament I've ever been to," said Jacob. "The competition was crazy. It was a notch above anything I've ever wrestled before."
AAU wrestling runs through February, then in March, action in USA wrestling begins for the club. Ruby said that USA wrestling is ran just like high school, stating that the wrestlers have to go through districts and sectionals to make it to state at Columbia.
Josh will be going for his fourth AAU State Championship this season, as well as his third Triple Crown Championship.
"The Triple Crown Championship is a combination of the three largest AAU championships in the state of Missouri," said Ruby. "This weekend, Josh will be going for his third Triple Crown at Fort Zumwalt North High School."
Whether it's Josh or Jacob on top of the podium, it's a given that the two will have their strong bond until the end.
"These two are probably the closest brothers I've ever seen," said Ruby. "It doesn't matter if Jacob doesn't win a match. He's proud of Josh."
After talking to Josh, the same goes in his book, as he counts it a blessing to be able to wrestle alongside his older brother.
The Heartland Wrestling team will be in action this weekend, in the St. Louis area at Fort Zumwalt North at the AAU National Challenge, where in 2007 the team placed 13th out of 57 teams.
"This year I'd like to get in the Top 10," said Ruby. "We'll see kids from Illinois, Tennessee and Arkansas, a lot of kids we haven't seen before."
Win or lose, one thing is for sure--the Heartland Wrestlers are going to give it their best.