Park Hill junior Ke-Shawn Hayes’ trophy case sits next to an old dirt bike, some free weights and a box of laundry detergent. It’s overflowing with more than 100 wrestling medals and trophies.
By SAM MCDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
The shrine is nearly impossible to find in Hayes’ home, tucked away in a couple of cardboard moving boxes underneath a staircase.
Hayes says he hasn’t seen most of the keepsakes since the days he brought them home from various national, state and local tournaments. They’re hidden from sight. Deliberately.
“It’s in the past, so there’s no point in putting them out there,” Hayes says. “That’s not going to help me for the future. And I want to look to the future, not in the past. That’s what gives me an edge.”
It has worked so far.
Hayes recently took over as the No. 1-ranked high school wrestler in the country at 126 pounds, according to FloWrestling.com.
After winning the Missouri Class 4 state title as a sophomore last season, Hayes is unbeaten this year, with tournament titles at the Walsh Ironman Tournament in Ohio and the Kansas City Stampede — a pair of events that draw nationally ranked wrestlers.
Trophies from both tournaments were thrown into the pile beneath the staircase, Hayes’ symbolic gesture to turn the page on another accomplishment.
“He’s just so focused. His mentality going into big tournaments and big matches is different than anyone you will see,” said Park Hill senior John Erneste, Hayes’ workout partner. “He’s not only probably the best wrestler in the room, he’s the hardest worker in the room.”
That’s high praise considering the accomplishments of the teammates who share the room. Park Hill is the defending Missouri Class 4 state champion, and the Trojans welcomed back five wrestlers who placed in the top-three last March.
In addition to Hayes, Sean Hosford and Colston DiBlasi are defending individual titles. Erneste and Canton Marriott are also back after each placed third in their respective weight classes last season.
For Hayes, success started early.
He was 6 years old when a football teammate handed him a wrestling flier. He joined the program later that night.
“He must have wrestled 25 tournaments his first year, and he won 24 of them,” said Jason Hayes, Ke-Shawn’s father. “And the only one he lost, he pinned himself because he was busy trying to fix his headgear.”
The accomplishments kept coming.
Hayes twice won the Trinity Award — given to youth wrestlers who win the Kickoff Classic in Oklahoma, Tulsa Nationals and Reno Worlds, three of the nation’s most prestigious tournaments.
Bill Erneste, who coached Park Hill for 15 years before taking over as the school’s athletic director, recalls the first time he saw Hayes compete in a tournament.
“There was something that was special about him the first time I ever watched him wrestle,” said Erneste, who handed the program over to Jeff Davis this season. “You could just tell that kid was better than everyone else. He was a phenom.
“When that happens, it can go two ways. You can continue on that path, or you can get burned out on it by the time you reach high school. It goes about 50-50.”
Hayes fell on the positive side — in fact, he quit football after the sixth grade to focus exclusively on wrestling — but it wasn’t a smooth transition to high school.
As a freshman, he placed third at state after losing a semifinal match he expected to win. That quickly eliminated his goal of becoming a four-time high school state champion.
“I expected (high school wrestling) to come easy,” Hayes said. “It was harder. It’s more of a grind. You have to work hard every single day of the whole year or you fall behind.”
Hayes responded by finishing 41-2 last season en route to the 113-pound state title. Lesson learned.
His success over the last two seasons has led to significant college interest for Hayes, who has posted straight A’s in all five semesters of high school. Hayes says Arizona State, Northwestern, Stanford and Cornell are among the schools that have started the recruiting process.
It’s a compelling possibility.
Hayes grew up watching videos of college wrestlers, hoping one day he would receive the same opportunity.
“I definitely plan on wrestling in college,” Hayes says. “And I want to win a national championship there.”
That trophy might be one worth saving.
To reach Sam McDowell, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.