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Examiner
  • Salas finally finds sense of stability after trying journey

  • Cain Salas’ journey is one filled with winding twists and turns, several detours and some unexpected roadblocks.

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  • Cain Salas’ journey is one filled with winding twists and turns, several detours and some unexpected roadblocks.
    It also includes four high schools, a baffling lost season and a series of painful shoulder ailments.
    As a senior, Salas is finally competing on the Blue Springs High School wrestling team. He’s also excelling as the top-ranked 152-pounder in Class 4 with a 12-0 record. But Salas and Wildcats coach Mike Hagerty admit there have been plenty of times over the last two years that it looked like Salas’ career at Blue Springs was destined to crash.
    “Cain is a kid who’s really fought through a lot of issues,” Hagerty said.
    This is Salas’ first year wrestling for Blue Springs, but Hagerty expected to have him available during the second semester last season when he transferred from Granite City, Ill. Unfortunately, Salas was ruled ineligible by the Missouri State High School Activities Association in what Hagerty described as a controversial ruling.
    Blue Springs was the fourth high school Salas had attended in three years as his family moved from Mount Olive, Ill., after his freshman year to Gladstone because they were unhappy with the education he was receiving. He attended Oak Park as a sophomore and won a Class 3 state title in the 135-pound division, but his family moved back to Illinois at the end of the year.
    It wasn’t long before Salas was packing his suitcase again as his mom, Kristine Salas, struggled to find more than a part-time job. She eventually landed a gig at Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence that paid $7 more per hour than what she was previously making.
    By chance, Salas grew up with Wildcat junior Michael Pixley, who made the transfer to Blue Springs last season. Their families remained close and the Pixleys vouched for the quality of Blue Springs High School, which contributed to the Salas’ decision to move there.
    Hagerty didn’t anticipate any hang-ups with MSHSAA, but Salas was still ruled ineligible. Blue Springs appealed the decision and it was sent to MSHSAA’s nine-member board of directors to review. One board member was Blue Springs School District superintendent Paul Kinder, who wasn’t allowed to vote on the ruling because of his conflict of interest.
    The vote ended up a tie, which meant the board would stick with its initial ruling. Salas was crushed.
    “I was really devastated, to tell you the truth,” Salas said. “Just because of the fact that it was my junior year, it’s a big high-profile year where you get looked at and I’d always had the dream of wrestling in college.”
    Hagerty remains outspoken about the decision, which he said was made under the assumption that the Salas family moved to Blue Springs primarily for athletic reasons.
    Page 2 of 3 - “It was very apparent that there was more to it than athletics,” Hagerty said. “... I was very disappointed in the ruling coming back from MSHSAA. In that particular case, I think they got it wrong.”
    Despite his disappointment, Salas found ways to contribute to the Wildcats’ second consecutive state championship run. He served as team manager and approached his responsibilities seriously.
    “Cain did it all,” said Pixley, who has known Salas for nine years. “He made sure the (equipment) bag was good and everything was in there and good to go. He made sure we all had our stuff clean. He pretty much watched out for us and took care of the team.”
    Salas also remained a fixture in the practice room as he helped out the Wildcat coaching staff. Salas said that experience gave him a purpose while he was unable to compete and allowed him to see the sport in a different light.
    “I saw that there are other things that aren’t about me,” Salas said. “Once I started helping coach and helping the other kids out, it really opened a new horizon. It brightened everything. It gave me a different insight.”
    Ideally, that would have been the end of Salas’ trials, but that would have been too convenient. In May, Salas, who has battled chronic shoulder injuries since he was in grade school, dislocated his shoulder blade. Initially, it looked like he’d require surgery. That plan was eventually scrapped but he lost a summer’s worth of training that was replaced with rehab.
    The injury has improved, but Salas still isn’t allowed to practice at full speed.
    “I don’t even bother paying attention to it just because of the fact that once adrenaline gets going, you realize it’s not going to hurt,” Salas said.
    Hagerty conceded there have been times over the last year he’s seen Salas waver in his faith that this would work out in the end. That’s because Salas holds high expectations for himself, Hagerty said. When he’s not able to get out on the mat, even if it’s because of factors beyond his control, Salas blames himself.
    “It’s a counseling session,” Hagerty said. “We do a lot of talking and trying to put meaning behind some of these issues and sometimes there’s not a right answer. You’ve just got to find it in your heart to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to take a leap of blind faith and I’m going to stay in this.’”
    Finally, Salas is approaching something resembling stability in his senior season. He constantly talks of his year-end goals, winning another individual state championship and leading the Wildcats to their third straight state team crown.
    Page 3 of 3 - After all the pain and heartbreak the wrestling nomad has withstood over the last year, he sees that as a perfect ending to his circuitous story.
    “It’s definitely been hard,” Salas said. “But what I’ve learned through Coach Hagerty is you’ve just got to keep fighting no matter what. Eventually, the battle’s going to be won.”
     
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