Bo makes more than a peep
Pursel ascends to state, national prominence after winning gold medals
Tears rolled down Bo Pursel's cheeks after competing in the Kansas state youth wrestling tournament March 28.
As the 9-year-old looked up, Bo's glossy eyes met his father's, and then Mike Pursel began to cry.
That, of course, triggered the floodgates for Bo's mother, Karen.
The scene appeared to a casual spectator as reaction to a devastating defeat.
But it was far from it.
"Somebody asked me if he lost," Mike said. "I just said, 'You have no idea how hard he's worked.'"
In front of a near-capacity crowd March 28 at the 6,600-seat Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Bo became Tonganoxie's first-ever state champion on any level.
Competing in the 61-pound division of the 10-and-younger division, Bo beat Symon Seaton of Bonner Springs by one point.
This season, the wrestlers squared off seven times. Bo won four of those, each by one point.
The results have shown Bo's improvement.
Two years ago, Symon bettered Bo eight times and eventually won state.
Oh, but there's more
Winning state was a goal of Bo's for some time.
A week later, Bo accomplished another feat -- he became Tonganoxie's first national champion also.
Wrestling at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on the campus of Northern Iowa, Bo went 6-0 in the tournament and hit the highest peak in the folkstyle season.
"I jumped in the air and yelled, 'I'm a national champion!'" Bo said.
That he was after defeating wrestlers from Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. In the finals, Bo won by a solid 5-1 decision.
"I think this was much more of a relaxed atmosphere that we went with no expectations and went as a vacation," Mike said. "I really didn't have the comprehension of that. Not that we expected him to win state, but it was more of if it was attainable or not at state."
Each round came and went and Bo was moving further and further to the right of the bracket.
"We almost kept going round after round expecting the other shoe to drop," Mike said. "And he kept beating them."
Wrestling against 47 other wrestlers in the 9-and-younger division and the 60-pound weight class, Bo wrestled in a 64-person bracket. Of 150 wrestlers, four others also were from Kansas.
Last year, Bo was named an all-American after taking fifth in the USA nationals at the Expocentre last April. Placing in the top six in a division earns a wrestler the all-American distinction, so he now has two such distinctions to his credit.
On the state level
Wrestling has been a part of Bo's life for more than half his young life -- he started wrestling when he was 4.
And although he took his share of losses initially, he is 36-0 in Kansas and 60-6 overall this season.
Last year, Bo just missed the title at state, but had to settle for second. That helped make this year's championship run an even greater scenario.
"It was very exciting," Bo said. "That's what I've been working for ever since I started."
Bo wasn't the only Tonganoxie wrestler to place at state. Dylan Yates scored a fourth-place finish in the 8-and-younger group's 64-pound class. Both wrestlers also placed first in districts on March 20.
For Bo, this has been a heaping scoop of ice cream on the cake. Overall, he has won seven gold medals since December.
Usually tournament champions receive medals, trophies or plaques.
At nationals, Bo received something more like a plate.
The award weighed about two pounds and measured four inches by six inches. Normal medals measure about two inches by two inches.
"It was kind of hurting my neck," Bo said. "It was really heavy."
Bo's father said it was a topic of conversation among a few of the wrestlers.
"The kids were all joking about how much it weighed," Mike said.
Preparation on the mat
The typical wrestler hops around before a match to get psyched up for the main event. That's the case for Bo, to an extent, but he has another routine.
"I try to get really ready in my mind," Bo said. "Tough in your head and tough in your heart."
Mike said Bo is focused when it comes to the mat, but is a different person afterward, such as when he's faced Symon.
"He's a pretty intense kid," Mike said. "He gets pretty wound up when he hits the mat.
"As soon as it's over they're buddies again and they're playing."
Not just a grappler
The singlet isn't Bo's only uniform. He has played baseball in the Tonganoxie Recreation Commission and the Wyandotte County League. And, on top of that, he also rides horses and has been involved in team roping.
But when it comes down to his favorite sport, wrestling has no competition.
"It's really fun, I love it," Bo said.
Mike and his brother both wrestled at Leavenworth High, so the torch has been passed, but Mike said Bo hasn't grown tired of wrestling at such a young age.
"At 5 he seemed to take to it," Mike said. "We held him until he was 7 and pretty much let him go since then."
According to Mike, the drive has been all within Bo.
"A lot of people question whether we push him too hard," Mike said. "But he drags me and says, "Can we wrestle, can we wrestle, can we wrestle?'"
Some time off
An injury last summer kept Bo off the mats for a few months.
Competing at the Southern Plains Tournament in Topeka in June, Bo collided with another wrestler and subsequently broke his right eye socket. Bo later had to have surgery.
"We butted heads and he hit me right here in the eye," Bo said.
Mike said it was a freak injury.
"It actually was far less of a collision than you see a hundred other times," Mike said. "It just hit him just right."
Bo returned to the mats in October.
Bo has spent some time practicing with members of clubs in Leavenworth, Lansing and Pittsburg, but he belongs to the hometown Tonganoxie Twisters club.
Mike has been coach of the wrestling club for the past three years.
With about 25 to 30 regular members, the club has claimed its share of tournament medals.
"It's gone really well," Mike said. "It's a tough sport that kind of takes a special kid."
Bo and Ob
Although Bo was undefeated in Kansas this year, a buddy of his still is searching for win No. 1.
His name is Ob, Bo's wrestling partner who happens to be made of baseball-pant material and stuffing.
When Bo was younger, he used to wrestle with a red Power Ranger. But as he's gotten older, Bo's mother, Karen, said it was time to provide Bo with a new opponent. After searching through toy stores, Karen had a solution.
A couple years ago, she traced around Bo's body and made the wrestling partner. Bo's sister, Shelby, named him Ob because he was the mirror image of Bo.
The two "wrestle" quite a bit, according to Bo's parents.
"He's beat the heck out of that thing," Mike said.
Made with material with a red pinstripe pattern, Ob now has a face drawn on him, thanks to his partner.
"In the winter time, he wrestles it all the time," Karen said. "Its poor little arms are broken in spots from being pinned up all the time."
At national tournaments, the wrestlers participate in a unique ceremony. Wearing singlets from their home states, wrestlers participate in a free-for-all singlet swap. Before last weekend, Bo had accumulated uniforms from Wisconsin, Florida and Georgia.
"It's almost like they trade pins at the Olympics," Mike said. "It's like the 10-year-old version of that.
"They wear all their extra singlets around their neck and they go up and it's like free commerce."
This weekend, Bo claimed Wisconsin and Iowa singlets, along with another Kansas singlet.
The only one he could wear last weekend, however, was the Georgia uniform. After all, that's what he wore at state.
"I'm superstitious," Karen said. "He had to wear that Georgia one."
Back to the mats
In two weeks, Bo will be wrestling again, but it will be in the freestyle season. Winning Sunday completed the first leg of the "triple crown" of wrestling.
Folkstyle and Greco/Roman nationals will be July 4 in Wisconsin, but Mike is unsure whether Bo will attend.
Because of the distance to Wisconsin, the Pursels may stay home for that holiday.
A big goal on his mind
In Kansas, youth wrestling is popular. This year, 7,250 grapplers from the state are registered in USA wrestling.
Even with so many participants, Bo has been a prominent name thus far, but he has higher goals.
With a definite nod of the head, Bo's body language said he planned to wrestle in junior high and eventually high school.
Bo already is familiar with Tonganoxie High coach Jeremy Goebel. The second-year THS coach taught Bo in physical education at the elementary school last year. When Goebel was serving in active duty with the armed forces last year, the two kept in touch via e-mail periodically.
Bo hopes to wrestle for Goebel, but his goals don't stop there.
Few Kansas universities and colleges offer wrestling, but regional Division I programs such as Nebraska, Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have traditionally strong teams.
Although Bo hasn't thought too much about his college of choice, he does have an Iowa State jacket.
If Bo's success continues, the 9-year-old could have a realistic shot at a college scholarship.
And after that, the boy who weighs no more than 64 pounds now could fulfill his ultimate goal.
"I want to wrestle in the Olympics when I'm older," Bo said.