Two Ninety Six youth wrestlers showcased their skills against some of the top kids in the country and came out on top this past weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Luke Burnett and Jaxon Burnett, members of the Electric City Slammers 8U team, helped their squad capture a first-place finish in the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Nationals, a premier event in youth wrestling.
Luke finished in second place in the 70-pound weight class and Jaxon placed seventh in the 53-pound weight class. Carter Evans took first place at 85 pounds.
Overall, six wrestlers from the state competed in the 8U, 12U and 14U divisions. Team Bear, a wrestling club based in Belton, took sixth in the 8U division.
“Most folks count out South Carolina kids being able to compete up there,” said Hayes Burnett, one of three coaches for the teams. “The kids down here have the heart and the ability to compete with anybody, anywhere.
“Just because we’re from little towns where football is the heart and soul of the sports community, that doesn’t mean wrestling can’t be just as good. I’m proud of these kids because they went up there and showed not only what our little town can do, but they showed the rest of the country, too.”
Hayes has coached Ninety Six youth wrestling since 2015. His sons, Luke and Jaxon, are also members of Team Palmetto, a travel club that competes across the region. The brothers have captured first-place finishes at several events this year.
Heading into the Iowa tournament, Hayes wasn’t sure how competitive the teams could be against the rest of the country but was pleasantly surprised with the results, which were on par with the overall success the team has had this season.
“It’s another level and another ballgame when you wrestle up there,” Hayes said. “You’ve got kids all the way from California and Florida, but it’s been an eventful season for us. This is probably one of the better seasons we’ve had in my six years of doing this. We’ve had four state champions on our youth team, and out of the 12 kids we took to state, eight medaled.”
With the recent success Ninety Six has had in all levels of wrestling, Hayes said he’s hopeful the sport will continue to grow in the Lakelands and the state.
“In Iowa, these kids showed the wrestling community that we’re here, we’re for real and we’ll be here for a while,” Hayes said. “I’m proud and excited about the potential we have coming up in this area. I couldn’t be more excited with where wrestling is going in South Carolina, and it starts at the youth level.”