3 weeks after being DQ’d, Halter perseveres to perch podium

Hayden Halter rips through Pulaski’s Cole Gille in the WIAA Division 1 120-pound state championship match Saturday night at the Kohl Center in Madison. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

MADISON – Heavy lies the head that wears the crown.

Coming off a WIAA Division 1 state wrestling championship in 2018, Waterford sophomore Hayden Halter moved up two weight classes to 120 pounds and embarked on a journey to win his second of four consecutive state crowns.

Controversy reared its ugly head after a Feb. 2 incident at the Southern Lakes Conference meet, and the soft-spoken 15-year-old’s world turned upside down.

Three weeks to the day after Halter was DQ’d, only to be reinstated thanks to a Racine County Circuit Court judge’s injunction, a lawyer and a passionate father, his redemption came on the grandest stage of high school wrestling Saturday night.

After dodging a bullet and almost being taken down early, Halter erupted with a flurry of points to overwhelm Green Bay Pulaski’s Cole Gille, 8-3, and capture the WIAA Division 1 120-pound championship in front of a capacity crowd of more than 10,000 people at the Kohl Center in Madison.

“It feels great,” Halter said moments after his victory Saturday night. “A lot of people were rooting for me and helping me train. My parents kept going and fighting for me, and we got what we wanted. I kept my composure.”

Waterford head coach Tom Fitzpatrick was proud of his two-time state champion.

“He’s a great kid, he’s an extremely hard worker, and he gets emotional when he wins,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s what got him in a little bit of trouble. There was no harm intended (when Halter flexed at conference after winning) whatsoever. He’s just an emotional kid. He keeps it bottled up, and when it’s over, it’s like ‘Yes!’ I did it. That’s what he did all year long.”

Composure was something that wasn’t a given.

In Friday’s semifinal match, Halter endured a chorus of boos after pinning his opponent. The unusual act prompted Halter’s opponent to signal to the crowd to stop.

 

On Saturday night, it was a replay, as Halter flexed and jumped in excitement after winning the title while more boos engulfed the Kohl Center.

It’s safe to say wrestling purists never wanted Halter to be eligible to compete in the WIAA postseason, which would’ve happened had the Halters not hired a lawyer to appeal his DQ.

While it would be easy for a teenager to succumb emotionally to such ridicule, including excessive public shame from social media comments, Halter stayed strong.

“I think it’s childish,” Halter said about the boos. “These people don’t know me. There really is no reason. It is what it is.”

“Everything’s worth a fight, no matter what. I just kept fighting through it and kept training no matter what. Even when they said I couldn’t wrestle, I kept my mind right and kept training. The people I was thinking about were my parents and my coaches. They are the ones that stuck by me, through the tough times.”

“Coach Tom Fitzpatrick is just amazing. He did everything, he stayed up late for days just trying to figure it out. Huge props to him.”

Fitzpatrick said people have been approaching Halter all weekend to show their support, so all the reactions haven’t been negative.

“Random people we don’t even know, they come up and say ‘Hey, I know we’ve heard some boos, but I’m supportive of you, and congratulations, you went through a lot.’ That means a lot to us,” Fitzpatrick said. “We had three people come up today and say they were glad he got on top of the podium.”

“For a 15-year-old kid to go through what Hayden Halter went through, and to be able to accomplish this, it takes tunnel vision and focus. Mentally, he’s as tough as anybody I know. He’s a rock.”

Though the WIAA was technically defeated in court, and the DQ ruling was reversed, Halter could still be stripped of his state championship, though at this point it’s strictly speculation.

Fitzpatrick says Halter was worked too hard to lose his gold.

“They (WIAA) haven’t reached out to us, that’s their call,” Fitzpatrick said. “We feel real confident everything we’ve done and said thus far is what should be done. There’s nothing we did to try to twist anything.”

“Judge Piontek said their overwhelming evidence in our favor, and that’s why we pursued it. He didn’t do anything wrong. And it shouldn’t be taken away from him. That’s why we fought so hard, because he worked so hard. And to get here and get on top of that podium is what he deserves, and that’s what he did.”

Halter finished the season 41-6 and really had no trouble at the state tournament, pinning his first two opponents before handling Gille with ease.

He’s wrestled all over the country during his short life, and received numerous championships and accolades, but Saturday’s triumph takes the cake.

“I think this one means the most,” Halter said. “A lot of people, after something like that would happen, their mind would be kind of messed up, but I stayed focused. This is the best one so far.”