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Four-for-Four: Freeman's state title collection no easy task WITH PHOTO GALLERY

  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Walled Lake Central coach Al Freeman just sat back and watched son Ben in action at the state finals. (MIPrepZone file photo).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Ben Freeman of Walled Lake Central dominated the opposition for much of his high school career, scoring points at a breakneck clip in winning four Division 1 state wrestling championships. (MIPrepZone file photos).
  • Troy's Keith Wheeler won two state titles in the 300-meter hurdles and two state titles in the 400 dash. (Oakland Press file photo)
  • Katie Boyles of Rochester Adams was the top cross country runner at the state championships four straight years. (Oakland Press file photo).
  • JJ Lahser regional track
  • Raffi Karapetian of Bloomfield Hills Andover nabbed four state titles in swimming during his career at Bloomfield Hills Andover. (Oakland Press file photo)
  • Oxford's Connor Bandel won two straight D1 state discus throw and shot put titles from 2015-16. (MIPrepZone file photo).

WL Central senior among handful who've done it in other sports

Ben Freeman stood at the center of the wrestling mat, hands raised in triumph by the referee while graciously accepting the applause from the crowd of approving spectators.

The Palace of Auburn Hills, the site of the MHSAA state wrestling finals, is where Freeman has ended his season the past four years.

“It’s the coolest place I’ve ever wrestled … one of the high points of the year,” said Freeman, who was the flag bearer for the tournament’s grand march, an honor bestowed on only the elite wrestlers.

Another Division 1 individual state wrestling title was in his possession, but unlike other high school athletes, there was something uniquely different about this one. This was state title No. 4 for a wrestler who’s been cool and calm under pressure, and low-key in his celebrations.

Winning one state title is an achievement most high school athletes will never accomplish. Winning four is on another level, and that’s where Freeman ended, meeting intense, physical battle with a victory for four straight years.

There’s a combination of luck, perserverance, skill and the ability to stay healthy that goes into each state title and winning four makes that combination of factors exponentially much more difficult to achieve.

To be sure, Freeman broke his ankle and missed more than a month of action early in the season. “I went from wrestling well to not even walking,” said Freeman, who missed the Oakland County tourney but healed to finish his high school career.

Through the years, thousands have competed in high school wrestling in Michigan, and Freeman is only the fourth Division 1 wrestler to win four state titles. Two have been from powerhouse Davison (Brent Metcalf and Lincoln Olson), and one from Rockford (Kyle Waldo). There have been 18 in the other three combined divisions.

“He does appreciate it, he doesn’t take it for granted,” said his dad, Al Freeman, the Walled Lake Central wrestling coach, of the feat. “He understands how fortunate he is.”

Before Freeman, only a handful of Oakland County athletes have won at least four state titles in other sports. Raffi Karapetian of Bloomfield Hills Andover won three state titles in the 50 freestyle and a state title in the 100 freestyle from 1990-92. Oxford’s Connor Bandel won consecutive state titles in the shot put and discus throw from 2015-16. Detroit Country Day’s Kendall Baisden won an amazing eight D2 state titles from the 100-400 dashes from 2010-13. Troy’s Keith Wheeler won back-to-back state Class A state titles in the 300 hurdles and 400 dashes in 1986-87, and Katie Boyles of Rochester Adams won four straight D1 cross country titles from 1997-2000.

Going way back, some 60 years, Pontiac Central's Hayes Jones won a pair of 120-yard high hurdles state titles, a long jump state title and 180-yard low hurdles title from 1955-56. Farmington's Warren Cawley won 120-yard high hurdles and 180 hurdles state titles back-to-back in 1958-59, and added a long jump state title. Both were future Olympians. Pontiac Northern's Godfrey Herring won six state titles in track and field from 1995-97, but three were on relays.

However, unlike sports such as swimming and track and field, which offer multiple events and consequently more chances to win state titles, cross country and wrestling offer only one opportunity each season.

Boyles’ feat stands out because she had to win her freshman season, a difficult task competing against seasoned juniors and seniors.

But Freeman had to do it, too.

To be sure, as impressive as those other state titlists were, Freeman’s feat tops them all.

While swimmers and sprinters can lose in preliminary rounds and still advance to the finals, wrestlers cannot. One loss and a state title chance is over.

Freeman had to go through a gauntlet of quality quarterfinal and semifinal opponents each year just to get to the finals. He did it in four different weight classes, too.

As a freshman 103-pounder, he won by technical fall (winning by 15 or more points automatically stops the match) over all of his opponents en route to his first state championship.

But his natural growth put him up to the 125-pound class as a sophomore. “He went from 103 to 125 in one year and people rightly so said ‘let’s see how he does against the big boys,” said Al Freeman. “To me that was the big year as far as a challenge.”

As a sophomore at state, he had two tech falls leading up to his semifinal match against senior Camden Bertucci (43-2) of Romeo, where he fell behind before pulling out a 6-5 victory. Then he beat senior Romeo Riley (44-2) of Kalamazoo Central 10-7 in the finals.

He had two pins and two tech falls as a junior 135-pounder at the state tourney and, as a senior at the state tournament, tech falled Rockford’s Jack Richardson (42-5) 20-5, then he tech falled Waterford Kettering’s Anthony Gonzalez (35-10) 20-3, then tech falled Jackson’s Brandon Riggins (38-4) 23-8, and ended with a tech fall over Birmingham Groves’ Colin Takata (48-3), the Oakland County tourney champ, 24-7, to clinch his fourth state title.

“He’s not been scored on offensively in the last two years,” said Al Freeman.

There was a question whether a forfeit due to a medical issue in the finals of the Holt tournament his freshman year was indeed a loss, but according to the MHSAA, it was not, said Al Freeman, so Ben Freeman ended his career unbeaten in high school. The official record is 167-0, consisting of 45 victories as a freshman, 45 as a sophomore, 42 as a junior and 34 as a senior.

But Freeman never concentrated on his record. “He never thought about it, if you’d ask him, he’d never really know.” said Al Freeman, who acknowledged the difficulty of blocking out statistics. “Looking back, it was really hard. He could only focus on one match at a time.”

With his high school wrestling career wrapped up, Freeman will join the University of Michigan team next season, leaving memories of a dominating wrestler who doesn’t come around often.

“The way he coped with it … he intentionally kept moving forward, I’m going to miss him,” recalled Al Freeman of Ben’s magic moment. “I was happy, but I was sad (too).”

Last Updated: 4/8/2017 3:49:01 PM EST


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