Sometimes, the greatest moments happen when you least expect it.
For Wisconsin senior Patrick Farrell, that moment arrived last Tuesday. That was the night when his Wrightstown team wrestled Chilton, and Farrell finally got to perform in a varsity match.
Farrell is a kid who’s had to achieve his goals while overcoming obstacles many don’t have to deal with.
He was born with his hips out of their sockets and with developmental problems. He also has a speech impediment that still lingers, even after he underwent surgery for it as a child.
(Photo- Patrick Farrell is carried off the mat by his teammates after he wrestled in his first varsity match)
The family thought he might have Down syndrome, but it eventually was discovered he had a condition called Kabuki, a rare disease that is seen approximately once in every 32,000 births and causes a wide range of congenital problems.
Patrick doesn’t have much muscle tone. He lacks coordination. But he’s always loved wrestling thanks to his older brothers, Jaret and Matt, both of whom are former grapplers.
Matt was a three-time state qualifier at Wrightstown.
Patrick never was going to have a chance to compete at state, but the kid believes he can do anything if he works hard enough.
Take last summer, when he told Wrightstown co-football coach Bill Ehnerd that he’d like to play football his senior year.
Ehnerd encouraged him, telling Patrick he’d have to hit the weight room.
So, Patrick would have one of his parents drive him to the high school in the morning, with his bike in the back of the car. He’d do his weightlifting, and then he’d bike the 10 miles home.
Patrick did this for two-thirds of the summer, three days a week, until Jaret and Matt eventually sat their brother down and gently told him that football probably wasn’t his sport.
Patrick kind of already knew.
"He is just a really good kid," said Mark Farrell, Patrick’s father, who had to pause a few times to hold back tears. "I don’t know, we just brought him up with the attitude that he has to fight for anything he wants, and we tried not to treat him any differently."
What Patrick really wanted was to wrestle on varsity. He’s been wrestling on the junior varsity team during his prep days, competing in 17 to 20 matches per season.
But the last time he won a match came during middle school in a decision win over another physically challenged child.
Throughout his prep career, no matter how hard Patrick tried, he couldn’t get a win.
"There were times when you could tell he’d come off the mat and he wanted to win so bad," Wrightstown wrestling coach Bill Verbeten said. "A couple minutes later, his smile was back and he was right back encouraging."
Before this season, Patrick made a deal with the Wrightstown coaching staff. If he could get his weight to 119 pounds — he started around 125 — they would reward him by buying ice cream and doughnuts. It was great motivation for Patrick and his sweet tooth.
"He likes the soda," Verbeten said, laughing.
But as the season went on, Verbeten had other ideas.
What better way to end Patrick’s career than to give him the opportunity he always wanted, to wrestle at the varsity level and put on that championship uniform?
Here was a kid that had never even been a varsity reserve. Yet, he showed up to every practice and every meet to support his teammates. He’d even pay his way to tournaments out of state.
With Patrick close to making weight the day before Wrightstown’s match against Chilton, Verbeten took his team aside after Patrick left that Monday night.
He asked them how they felt about giving Patrick the chance to wrestle. The whole team needed little time to endorse the idea, including 119-pound freshman Luke Wiese, who was being asked to give up his spot.
When Patrick made weight the next day, Verbeten had his wrestlers and coaches gather in the locker room.
They approached Patrick.
"We said, ‘Patrick, for all these years that you’ve come out and backed this team and you were part of this team from start to finish, Luke Wiese has something to tell you,’" Verbeten said.
Wiese, with his varsity gear in hand, walked up to Patrick. Wiese told him that on this night, Patrick was the 119-pound varsity wrestler. Wiese handed over his uniform, and the team began clapping.
Patrick let out a yelp and pumped his fist.
He never sat down the rest of the night.
"I was really shocked when they gave me the varsity stuff," Patrick said. "I just wanted to go out there and wrestle my hardest for the team."
The seniors told Patrick they also wanted him to lead Wrightstown out of the locker room, to be the first one to rip through the paper as they headed out for warm-ups.
Patrick lost a shoe while doing it, but it didn’t matter. This was his night and his moment.
Verbeten had talked to the Chilton coaching staff prior to the match to let them know about Patrick and to see if the team would be OK with it.
The Chilton coach knew Patrick and was fine with the idea, as was Scott Kratz, the wrestler facing Patrick.
Patrick’s was the final match of the night.
For three rounds, Kratz wrestled Patrick. Truth is, Kratz probably could have pinned him in seconds.
"This young man was as much of a champion as anybody out there," Verbeten said of Kratz. "He didn’t have to. But as part of something to let this young man go out in the winning spirit, they agreed to it."
Patrick was nervous before the match, but he hung with Kratz, even though he was getting tired.
Like every other match in his prep career, Patrick lost. This time, it was a 16-7 major decision. But for some reason, this one didn’t feel like a defeat.
Not after what happened next.
After referee Mike Blasczyk raised Kratz’s hand in victory, he turned to Patrick.
Blasczyk took Patrick’s hand and raised it to one side of the crowd. Then he did it to the other side.
You better believe tears were flowing in the crowd, which followed with a standing ovation.
Patrick’s teammates picked him up and carried him off, the only time in Verbeten’s career that he’s ever witnessed one of his wrestlers being carried off the mat in celebration.
Blasczyk mentioned to Verbeten afterward that it was the best thing he’d ever been a part of, and Verbeten felt the same.
"It meant to me that everybody’s dreams can come true," Verbeten said. "For me to see a young man like this achieve something, that night he was a champion.
"It was one of the most heart-warming things that has ever happened to me in all the years of wrestling, in coaching state champions and everything.
"This was really special for our whole team. I said to the kids that night, this is something that you as a team and you as individuals will never forget for the rest of your life. You made something like this happen for your teammate. You were a part of it."
As much as it meant to those who witnessed it, it meant even more to the kid who finally got to wrestle that one time on varsity.
"I was on top of the world," Patrick said. "I knew that if I kept on trying my hardest, that I eventually would get there.
"No matter how hard it gets, I can keep on trying."
Scott Venci covers high school sports for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
E-mail him at [email protected]
Reprinted with permission. Read the comments posted with the original story, published here in the Press-Gazette.