Mat Classic, the state high school wrestling tournament, is later this week at the Tacoma Dome. It was supposed to the culmination of a lifetime of wrestling for Buck.
Instead, Buck will be on the sidelines because of how his state tournament ended last year in Tacoma, the details of which Buck has to share second hand.
“I had to be told this because, to be honest, I don’t really remember it all,” he said, recalling his 2019 Mat Classic experience.
Buck entered state last year with his sights set on earning a medal. But those hopes were dashed during a consolation-round match against Cruz Vazquez of Moses Lake, one win short of achieving his goal.
“I did this thing called a head block where I block him coming in with my head,” Buck said. “And it just hit me wrong. I collapsed on the floor. I ended up finishing the match, but afterward I had to be carried out by our trainer on one of our coaches.”
Symptoms from his concussion would linger for months. Buck didn’t return to school for two months, then finished out the school year on just half days.
“It was really scary because afterward I could just barely function properly,” he said. “I had a really bad speech impediment, stuttering and slurred speech. The slightest noises and lights really affected me.”
Union coach John Godinho said Buck’s concussion was unlike any other he’d seen before in wrestling.
“I’ve never seen a concussion cause a speech impediment,” Godinho said. “We had to figure how he was going to learn. We also needed to find enough time with his teachers, because he couldn’t cram (this studies). All his teachers worked with him, and he did what he had to do.”
When it became clear he could no longer wrestle, Buck talked with Godinho about other ways in which Buck could contribute.
Coaching ended up being the perfect solution. Godinho said Buck is like a graduate assistant that college programs have.
“I love our guys still, and I wanted to try to help them do whatever they needed to do to reach their goals,” Buck said. “We’re working on that now. It feels pretty good because we’re doing pretty good as a team. I’d kind of like to think I’ve been a help with that.”
Godinho says he has. Buck shows up to practice every day, as well as the team’s morning runs. He gets down on the mat to help his teammates with their technique. As a fellow student, Buck has the pulse of the team, Godinho said.
“I rely on him, and I ask him things about our team,” Godinho said. “During matches, he’ll jump into one of the (coaching) chairs if a coach isn’t available. And he’ll talk to the kids afterwards. “
Buck is unsure about how he will feel when he steps back into the Tacoma Dome this week.
“It’s definitely been emotional knowing that I could have been out there and doing as good as everybody else on our team is doing, because we’re having a really amazing season,” Buck said. “The hardest part is not being able to be part of it, wrestling out on the mat. But it really helps me out knowing that the guys are doing good.”
Godinho says Buck has a future in coaching, if he wants it. Buck is not sure that’s the path he wants to take, at least not yet.
Even a year after his concussion, he’s still feeling the effects. He’s hoping he can go on his church mission after graduating in June.
But his first venture into coaching has taught him one thing.
“Serving others really helps you get through stuff,” he said. “You think it might not be worth your time, but helping out whenever you can really helps you in the long run.”
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.