TACOMA — Shawn Berg left the Tacoma Dome with regrets Friday night.
Most everyone else at Mat Classic XXIV watched him with respect.
Berg fell short in his quest of winning at medal at the Class 4A state wrestling tournament, going 1-2 at 160 pounds with a 1-0 loss in his final match. But in the eyes of many, the Arlington senior is a champion.
Berg is 100 percent blind in his right eye and 95 percent blind in his left. He lost his sight at age 4 ½ due to a benign tumor that still has to be monitored regularly with MRIs.
Among his biggest admirers is teammate Bryce McPherson, who remained unbeaten and advanced to the semifinals at 195.
“I’ve always looked up to him and everything he’s done,” McPherson said. “I close my eyes and I can’t even walk straight.”
But Berg doesn’t think there’s anything special about what he’s accomplished.
“I get a lot of people who come up to me and say, ‘Wow, it’s so great what you’re able to do,’ ” he said. “I appreciate all of their comments, but I’m just doing what everybody else is doing. It’s just that I can’t see. It’s no different.”
Berg, 17, is treated like any other wrestler in most regards. The only rule change is that opponents must keep contact with him at all times. His father, Darryl, is an assistant coach and a voice Shawn can always pick up during any match.
“He can hear me no matter what,” Darryl said.
Darryl, a former wrestler, said he steered Shawn toward the sport soon after he lost his sight.
“It’s a sport I definitely knew he could do,” Darryl said. “You don’t have to see to be able to wrestle. It’s a contact sport.
Shawn attends regular classes at Arlington and carries a grade-point average close to 3.9.
“He inspires me,” Darryl said. “I’m his biggest fan. There’s not that many kids who have been through what he’s been through. He’s made me a better father, a better man, a better husband. It makes me look at life differently.”
Shawn doesn’t like limits.
“He thinks he can do anything,” Darryl said. “He wants to drive a car so bad.”
Shawn wanted a top-eight finish at state, but fell one match short.
“I’ll have regrets,” he said. “Everybody has regrets in sports. But like coaches say, it’s not about wrestling. It’s about life. This teaches you work ethic and going beyond what you think you can do.”
And Shawn Berg figures he can pretty much do anything.
There is a lot of good stories coming out of the second oldest sport in history these days especially from high school which is a huge surprise to me. Arlington wrestler Shawn Berg dreamed of capturing a medal in his last run as a wrestler for his high school last month but came up empty handed with a face full of tears. Berg found three times that night in January but only managed to escape with only one win. If he would have secured a win against his final opponent his dream of walking away with a medal would have been reached.
Berg says that its so big deal what he is doing except for the fact that he is blind but that is just a destemiment to his character as a young man.