E.A. Sports Today

Lee wins, Tanner pays

Oxford senior body slams coach as part of his 182-pound state championship victory celebration

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Here's the sequence of Hunter Lee surprising Oxford coach Matt Tanner with a takedown after winning his 182-pound state championship bout Saturday. (Photos by Al Muskewitz, Selina Lee)

Here’s the sequence of Hunter Lee surprising Oxford coach Matt Tanner with a takedown after winning his 182-pound state championship bout Saturday. (Photos by Al Muskewitz, Selina Lee)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

HUNTSVILLE – Hunter Lee had just finished pinning his opponent to win the Class 6A state championship at 182 pounds Saturday and that should have effectively been the end of his high school wrestling career.

But he wasn’t done – not by a long shot. He had one more move on the mat to make.

No sooner had the referee let loose Lee’s arm signifying him the winner of the bout than the Oxford senior made a beeline for Matt Tanner and proceded to body slam his coach in celebration.

It was a championship worthy move, too – ducking low to grab both legs, getting his man upside down and depositing him on his hip with a thud.

“Oh man it’s been a long time since I hit the mat that hard,” Tanner said. “He asked me earlier ‘Whatcha gonna do if I win … If I come double-leg you? I said we’re just going to keep wrestling if you do that.

“I was hoping he wasn’t serious, but I had a feeling (he was) when he had that look on his face when he came on over …. It’s all good. It’s good for him. It’s good to go out on top like that.”

Lee said Tanner should have expected something because the free-spirited senior does things like that to him “all the time” in practice. And make no mistake it was his idea to go all WWE on his coach.

“He needs no egging on,” his mother Selina said.

It was a much different celebration when Lee won his first state title two years ago.

“I was just crying when I won my first one,” he said.

Instead, this time he almost made his coach cry.

Lee jumped on Tanner about as fast as he jumped on Scottsboro’s Ryan Crider in the championship match. He pinned his opponent inside the first minute, riding on the taller wrestler’s back — like a sloth in a tree — at least twice before finally breaking him down on the mat.

“I just did what I always do,” Lee said. “I didn’t think I’d pin him at all.”

Not pinning Crider would have been an upset. Lee pinned two of his three previous foes – both in the first period – on his way to the title match.

Lee was the second Oxford wrestler to claim a state championship on the day, joining Matt King who pinned his opponent at 138.

Behind them, the Jackets finished third in the Class 6A team competition, behind record-setting champion Arab and Southside-Gadsden. Nobody was catching Arab, who clinched the team title Friday night, but the Jackets were four points shy of second place.

Their other Oxford wrestlers placing in the top six included Hayden Carpenter (113), Mason Blakeney (120) and Jacob Shake (160), all of whom finished fourth in their respective weight divisions.

Now that the season is over, the secret of the sloth can finally be revealed. All season long the team kept the origins of the unofficial mascot a closely guarded secret. They carried it as a rallying point all year long, putting its image on promotional T-shirts, carrying stuffed “game sloths’ with them to the mat and even posing for pictures with their hands held in a sloth-like claw shape.

“Nobody knows why it started,” Lee said. “We were just playing a game one day and I was just rolling around on the ground like a sloth. We played a game called ‘Snake in the Grass’ and we started calling ‘Sloth in the Grass’ and it just caught on.”

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