Sumner’s 160-pound standout Kendrick Claxton and ROTC’s heavyweight (285 pounds and up) star Keenan Carnes represent the best and the brightest of Public High League wrestling in St. Louis’ inner-city. In the PHL Holiday Invitational tournament at Gateway Stem last month, both Claxton and Carnes won first-place medals in their respective weight classes, while the Sumner Bulldogs ran away with the team title. the team title gave the Bulldogs a large measure of redemption since they failed to win it the previous season, not due to a lack of talent, but rather due to weather-related problems, where several key members couldn’t get to the meet.
“We thought they were going to cancel or postpone the tournament because of a lot of snow and a lot of my kids end up missing,” recalled Sumner coach Anthony Mitchell. “The other schools were able to take advantage of that and we didn’t do so well in the PHL Tournament. But we ended up beating all of those PHL schools in the regular season and we won the league title anyway.”
Fast forward to the recent PHL Holiday Invitational , where neither snow, overtly cold weather or transportation logistics were a problem for Sumner or any competing team, for that matter. Instead, the real problems were posed by the Sumner Bulldogs on the mat to the competing teams.Behind Claxton and fellow weight-class champions DeShon ‘Pittsburgh’ Hill,(126), Corleon Thomas (132) , James McGregory(145) and Tyrique Moore (225) the Bulldogs cruised to the title.
“First I would like to thank the Lord and it felt really good to take back the PHL title,”said Claxton, who compiled a sensational 37-7 record last season in qualifying for state at that same weight in the Missouri Class 2 meet.
But besides winning holiday invitational titles and being the top PHL wrestlers in their respective weight classes, Claxton and Carnes are returning state qualifiers both recovering from broken ankles: Claxton sustained his injury more recently, during the past football season. Meanwhile, Carnes got injured on the mat in the fifth-place match at the state championships last season.
Claxton was limping noticeably during the holiday meet, but still toughed it out.
“I’ve got to change everything up,” he said then. “Instead of being an offensive wrestler I’ve had to be more of a defensive wrestler because of the injury.”
But that he has been versatile enough to make adjustment shouldn’t come as a surprise,given his athleticism: Playing just 15 pounds over his wrestling weight in football, the 5-10, 175-pound gridiron star had 34 tackles and three quarterback sacks on defense and rushed for 295 yards on 30 carries ( an impressive 9.8 average) on offense before the premature season-ending ankle injury, which was considered quite severe. That speaks volumes about his determination, toughness and smartness. After all, he has managed to risk further injury and, in fact, is rounding into postseason form, he believes.
“I am healing a little better from my broken ankle, but in the second phase (of the season) it will be stronger because I’m working every single day on it,” noted Claxton.
Likewise over at ROTC, Commanders standout Carnes is hard at work, noted his first-year coach Adam Durham.
The coach said Carnes also has uncommon athleticism for someone his size.Durham said Carnes has been most successful employing a “double blast” which is essentially akin to a driving leg tackle in football, and a “standing switch” when you spin away from your opponent’s grasp and reverse standing control.
The double blast technique “requires a considerable amount of explosive strength in the legs”, according to at least one wrestling website “isport.wrestling.com. Carnes posted a stellar 27-3 mark last season, including an opening-round state in the Missouri Class 1 championships.
“His best moves would be his blast doubles and his standard switch, both of which are rarely seen in the heavyweight division,” explained Carnes “However, Kennan has the strength and athleticism to pull them off. He’s always the first one at practice drilling. He also works out on his own every day after practice. We have added a few tougher meets and tournaments onto our schedule to give Keenan as many matches possible to prepare him for the state meet. He plans on improving on his sixth-place finish this year.”
But already he and Claxton have cleared the biggest hurdles by battling back from major injuries to a key part of their arsenal: their legs.