Pinned to the mat

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After 57 seconds, he has his opponent pinned to the mat. The whistle blows, his teammates jump out of their seats and the crowd instantly erupts into cheers as senior Will Karsten stands next to the ref with his hand raised in the air. After four years on the sidelines, Karsten finally had his chance in the spotlight. And he won.

Since arriving at Barrington, Karsten has been the wrestling team’s manager. His tasks don’t just include getting water and ice for wrestlers, but fulfilling the role of the team’s biggest fan. Although he doesn’t regularly compete, he’s a part of the team family: he gets up at five in the morning, travels to meets and never misses a practice.

“I wish we could have 40 Will’s because of the fact that you can’t find kids, especially managers, who are that committed,” coach Ken Hoving said. “He’s probably the most committed manager I’ve ever seen when it comes to his attitude, his personality, his drive to want to help others. He takes his job, as minimal as it is, with so much pride.”

Recognizing Karsten’s commitment and support over the years, junior Luke Rasmussen thought to give him his own time on the mat. After coaches coordinated with the competing school, Ethan Richert of Conant volunteered to compete against Karsten.

“I feel like it made people happy,” Richert said. “It meant a lot to him, and it meant a lot to me too.”

Karsten’s favorite part of the night was, “pinning him. I told you [coach Hoving] I was gonna pin him.”

His “Pops,” Hank Warren, was happy to see three and a half years of work come to fruition. Warren has seen Karsten socialize with his community, which he says is right where Karsten belongs.

“The value of it, you can’t put it into words,” Warren said. “All you gotta do is watch his face and look at the people around him that have got to know him. They’re just a huge part of his life as he’s a huge part of their life.”

Hoving said the wrestling team prides itself on its existence as a family-oriented and inclusive organization. They took Karsten in with open arms, providing him the opportunity to become one of their own.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Hoving said. “It’s something that obviously he’s so passionate about our sport and our program as a whole. We pride ourselves in being a family and since the get-go kids took him in. Definitely a rough start, but I think as time went on kids kind of just realized that this kid loves to be here, and loves being around here more than they do.”

After years of fighting for him, seeing Karsten compete was surreal for Warren. It was not only an important night for the school and Karsten’s family, but Warren sees it as an inspiring event for people everywhere.

“Anyone with a disability can watch him put forth this much effort into something they’re passionate about,” Warren said. “To see it be recognized, and not just from the Barrington community, but now you see Conant, and the grace that that wrestler showed him, it just gives new faith in people’s spirits. They’re seeing a greater acceptance in people with disabilities.”