Jose Perez and Jesus Saldana Final Kimmons Wrestlers for NHS

The odor of sweat filled the air as coaches yelled tips from the sidelines and teammates screamed encouragement. Wrestlers twisted their bodies into painful positions for the chance to pin opponents and win the match.

With Fort Smith junior high schools transitioning to middle schools next year, Jesus Saldana and Jose Perez have the title of final freshmen to wrestle for Northside. And, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions deprived them of having the full experience.

“It was still fun, though,” Jesus Saldana said.

For Jose Perez, one of the biggest challenges if wrestling during a pandemic was not getting to practice for an entire week while teammates got quarantined.

“We weren’t as prepared for our next match,” Jose said.

Finding matches for freshmen also proved to be an issue.

“The state of Arkansas didn’t allow us to have JV matches or any type of junior high matches this season due to Covid,” Coach Herrlein said. “That left the freshman only being able to wrestle varsity this season. It forced them to really be prepared each time they wrestled because they had to go up against kids with more experience.”

Jesus enjoyed getting to see all the Northside seniors and how wrestling really affected them and brought people from different schools together.

“My best moment was being at State because I got to say goodbye to great seniors and wish them good luck in the future,” Jesus said.

Jose felt special to be leaving a legacy.

“I got the chance to do a high school sport while I’m in junior high,” Jose said. “My best moment was when we went to state in Little Rock because we got to stay in a hotel and travel.”

Coach Herlin and Coach Hornbuckle motivated the freshmen.

“They showed me that high school is going to be the best years of my life, and I should enjoy it,” Jesus said.

Jesus placed third at the 6A Central Conference tournament and was only one match away from being a State placer.

“I’m going to work even harder to win next year,” Jesus said. “Making State was really fun because I got to see all of our seniors do really good, and it is motivation for the years to come.”

Jose acknowledged that his coaches motivated him by pushing him past his limits.

“Even if I thought I couldn’t do it, they still challenged me and made me realize that I’m stronger than I appear,” Jose said.

Coach Herrlein is most proud of the way Kimmons’ freshmen competed at varsity level.

“Historically, most freshmen aren’t ready for varsity, but they had to make the leap to varsity in order to get mat time,” Coach Herrlein said. “I was really proud of the fact they never gave up in any of those matches. They wrestled hard and fought tough in every match.”