Ryan Bradley labored for much of the past three years attempting to restore a long-dormant Basalt High School wrestling program.
The payoff came Saturday, when the Longhorns, participating in their first varsity tournament in 10 years, took second at the Hotchkiss Invitational.
"I thought we might be able to pull it out, get in the top two and get a trophy. The kids are just pumped," Bradley said. "I think it really hit me Thursday. ... It finally dawned on me that, 'Wow, we're going to go out there Saturday and wrestle for our school.' It was a cool moment."
Bradley took over a floundering Basalt Middle School program in 2008 after relocating to the valley from Aurora, where he coached at Regis Jesuit.
Soon after, he set about trying to bring wrestling back to the high school, an aspiration that was met with resistance from the start. In an effort to provide opportunities for older student-athletes, Bradley drove kids to Glenwood High School, where he served as an assistant, five times a week to practice and compete.
The Basalt school board earlier this year unanimously approved the return of high school wrestling provided the program could be self-funded.
Bradley, his coaches and players have been working hard to raise funding. And Saturday, the Longhorns officially returned to the mats. By any measure, it was a rousing success.
The squad picked up wins from Hector Chagoya (120-pound class), who pinned four opponents en route to victory, and Olmer Marquez (195), who was competing in his first varsity tournament. Additionally, Darwin Orellana (126) and Edwin Meraz (132) wound up second, Xavier Portillo (138) was third, Uriel Gonzalez (113) was fourth, Ivan Loya (145) and Oswaldo Olmedo (152) were fifth and Josue Fernandez (160) took sixth.
"A few of those guys who went to Glenwood every day and made a ton of sacrifices were the stars today," Bradley said. "It's awesome to get a trophy our first time out. Five years ago, when this whole thing started (at the middle school), we went into Hotchkiss for our first tournament and took second. Some of the kids from that team are seniors now, and they did it again. It was special.
"These kids are really going to be fired up going to Delta next weekend."