The lone wrestler

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Trey Toms is the only wrestler on his high school team.

Equipment for the high school wrestling team in Moore Haven, Fla., includes six custom-made uniforms, two pairs of shoes, two knee pads, a warmup sweater and a lucky ski cap.

It all belongs to Trey Toms. He's the Terriers' one-man team.

And his mom's the coach.

The son of a former collegiate wrestler, Toms is so crazy about wrestling that he has a mat in his living room. He wanted to pursue the sport in high school, but Moore Haven, a small school in a depressed agricultural area just west of Lake Okeechobee, offered no wrestling.

"We didn't have a team. We didn't have a coach," district superintendent Wayne Aldrich says. "That was a problem."

So the Toms family decided to start a team. Their idea won support from school officials and approval from the state -- with the stipulation that he have a coach. Toms' mom volunteered, even though she didn't know the difference between a fireman's carry and a half nelson.

"I can't even keep score," she says.

She and Trey travel to tournaments together in the family's Ford Expedition, with their next destination the district meet Thursday in Fort Myers.

"The Terriers' wrestling program is Trey," Moore Haven athletic director Janis Brown says. "Everybody is very supportive and quite pleased to have him represent us."

A state qualifier

A 135-pound senior, Trey hopes to improve on his finish last year, when he won one match at the state tournament before being eliminated.

He went 31-12 at 125 pounds as a junior. This season he's 12-2 despite injuries that have curtailed his schedule, with both losses to unbeaten wrestlers.

His success inspired the school yearbook to devote a page to the wrestling team: him.

"They're proud they have a one-man team," his mom says. "It used to be a joke. It's not a joke anymore."

Trey might be Moore Haven High's best team -- with 450 students in grades seven through 12, the school tends to struggle in sports.

When Trey was runner-up at a big wrestling tournament earlier this month, Moore Haven finished ahead of five schools in the point standings. That would warrant a round of high-fives from teammates, if Trey had any.

"Usually I'm by myself," he says. "But I don't mind the one-man team thing."

With no home meets, Trey takes part in tournaments all over Florida. He practices at a neighboring school but usually competes without a rooting section -- no cheerleaders, and rarely even any classmates in the stands.

His mom's always there, literally in his corner. But she isn't allowed to cheer, or coach.

"She doesn't say anything. We've agreed to that," Trey says. "She'll scream things and doesn't know what she's talking about. It's annoying a little bit."

Still, Trey appreciates his mom's help. She handles all the wrestling team's administrative work such as arranging his schedule -- and laundry.

"Every time we pull into the driveway after one of these two-day tournaments, he thanks me," she says. "It never fails. He understands. But then his dad does remind him constantly that I've given up a great part of my life to drag him around everywhere."

When not coaching, Kim Moore teaches reading to seventh- and eighth-graders. Her husband, Tommy, manages a farm business, which prevents him from attending most of his son's matches. But he wrestled at the University of Maryland and encouraged Trey to take up the sport.

Trey is 5-foot-7 -- the same height as his dad.

"My son was a very small kid, and other sports just weren't available to him," Tommy Toms says. "I would bring up wrestling, but the only wrestling as far as he was concerned was pro wrestling on TV. Then around seventh grade I talked him into going to watch a wrestling club for middle schoolers. He was interested and was naturally good to start with."

A unique arrangement

As a sophomore, Trey practiced with the team at Clewiston High School. He now works out with the LaBelle High team, making a daily one-hour round trip.

He missed only one practice in the past two years -- when his dad was in the hospital.

"You have to give Trey credit for his drive and love of the sport," LaBelle coach Tony Zuchegno says. "It's a unique situation. He has had to go to a lot of things by himself. I'm sure he's had to suck it up mentally to get through a tournament on his own."

Trey has developed a close relationship with Zuchegno's wrestlers, and wore their school's T-shirt at the state tournament last year in tribute. He was invited to pose with them recently for some of their team pictures, and every LaBelle wrestler wanted one of the photos that included Trey.

"The kids on that team are like my brothers," Trey says. "I love every one of them. But I'm not a LaBelle wrestler. I'm Moore Haven."

Trey's typical day is a long one. He goes to school at 7 a.m., heads for LaBelle at 2 p.m. and usually arrives home around 7 p.m.

That doesn't mean he's done wrestling. After dinner he polishes moves on the black mat in his living room.

"He tries to wrestle with his sisters, and they're not very cooperative," his mom says. "His dad had shoulder replacement surgery, so he can't show him moves. Trey just rolls around by himself."

That's how a one-man team works.

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