The first hug was for the referee.
Liberty North senior Daterraion Richardson couldn’t help himself, he would say, and so drenched in his own sweat, he gripped the wrestling official as if it was a long-awaited reunion.
And in a way, it was. Richardson became the first wrestling state champion in Liberty North history Saturday at Mizzou Arena, and the only thing that felt right was to enjoy it with those around him. With everyone around him.
A teeth-showing grin across his face, he next moved to the assistant referee, and this time the unexpected embrace from the 285-pound Richardson knocked the official stumbling backward. It was then on to his coaches, to his teammates, to his opponents even, before Richardson moved into the stands and the concourse area in search of one final hug.
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“My best friend, my guardian, my everything,” Richardson describes her, lifting his sleeve to reveal a tattoo on his left arm saying as much.
Milieka Simpson didn’t know if she would be able to watch her son Saturday. Didn’t know if she would witness him reach the pinnacle of his high school career on its final day.
Simpson is a single mother of four. Richardson’s father was incarcerated when Richardson was young, leaving Simpson as the provider for him and his three brothers.
On Friday evening, after Simpson watched her son win his Class 4 state semifinal match in Columbia, she returned to Kansas City, where she holds a job at a domestic violence shelter. Her ensuing overnight shift, for which she was a tad late, ran from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
After a two-hour nap Saturday morning, she mustered the energy to travel back to Mizzou Arena, and she sat in the front row for her son’s championship match.
Richardson was unsure whether to expect her. But as he jogged onto the mat, he turned to the stands and spotted Simpson. She blew him a kiss.
“Can’t lose now,” he recalled thinking.
Richardson edged McCluer North wrestler Matthew Wilke 3-2 in the championship bout.
In between hugs, he pointed toward the stands, where his mother sat. She blew him another kiss, then placed her forehand in her hands.
She later greeted him in the Mizzou Arena concourse — two hours before she was due back for her next work shift in Kansas City.
“I was so afraid I would miss it,” Simpson said. “I’ve slept maybe two hours in the last 24 hours and have a long night ahead of me, but it was worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
It was likely the final wrestling match of Richardson’s career.
In the fall, he will attend Southeast Missouri State. He says he is the first in his family to attend college.
He earned a football scholarship there, a necessary financial alleviation for his mom. Earlier this month, Richardson started a Go Fund Me page, asking people for help in buying a car to travel to and from college.
He raised $5,600.
He plans to extend his hours at his job before he departs for SEMO in June. In fact, he was scheduled to work at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, less than 12 hours after winning his title.
But he put the fundraising on pause for the three days prior, an effort to focus exclusively on the state tournament.
After a fourth-place finish in 2016, he determined during the preseason that he would become a state champion. His coaches even printed a picture of him, a mockup of him celebrating the title.
“I worked four years to make it happen,” Richardson said. “And as soon as I saw my mom sitting there, I knew it was over.”