OLIVIA — BOLD senior Anthony Maher wants to end his wrestling day with a bang.
In a career that started at 106 pounds as a seventh-grader, Maher is coming off his finest year on the mat. As a junior, he earned a spot at the Class A State wrestling tournament at the 152-pound weight class and finished the season with a 35-10 record.
Entering Friday’s quad at BOLD High School, Maher is the seventh-ranked wrestler in the state at 152 and is undefeated in five matches this season, two of which were wrestled at 182.
“My goal for the season is win a state championship and keep working towards that,” Maher said. “You always have to have your goals at the top and keep going hard at it. I just have to keep working hard at practice and being conditioned to be able to have a chance at the state championship.”
Maher is focused on achieving his lofty goals and believes his work ethic can allow him to reach them. However, in late November, the opportunity of becoming a wrestling state champion was nearly taken away from him.
As the starting tight end and defensive lineman of the Warriors football team, the senior helped BOLD to a 13-0 mark and its second consecutive appearance in the Prep Bowl.
On Nov. 29 at U.S. Bank Stadium, Blooming Prairie captured the Class A title with a 41-15 victory over Warriors. During the first half, Maher suffered an injury that not only ended his day, but his career on the gridiron.
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Maher remembers the ever fateful play like it was yesterday.
With his team on offense during the first quarter, Maher had blocking responsibilities on the aforementioned play when his right ankle got caught in a pile.
“I was going to block a linebacker, but someone blocked a guy into my ankle and my guy pushed me right over,” Maher said. “That’s when I injured it.”
On a scale of 1-10, Maher described the pain as a “six-to-seven,” as he was helped to the sidelines.
Shortly after being tended to by the team trainers, Maher thought he could play through the pain. Informing the coaches that he was ready to go, the senior was inserted back into the game during the second quarter, but his time on the field was short-lived.
“I was attempting to block a defensive end on a pass and as soon as I reached out to block him, something happened again,” Maher said. “I reinjured it and was in a lot of pain.”
This time around, there was no coming back.
Initially believed to have suffered a crack in his ankle, Maher officially had a high-ankle sprain.
“It was hard. I never sat out of a game,” Maher remembered. “Knowing that it was my final game and I had to sit out hurt a lot. Knowing that I couldn’t help my teammates in any way now, it was painful to watch.”
As it all unfolded, Sara Maher, Anthony’s mom, witnessed it all from the BOLD sideline. Taking photos on the field throughout the course of the game, she tearfully watched as her son needed help from two people to get to the locker room at halftime.
“He motioned for me to come over and I thought they’ll just wrap him up and he’ll go back out,” Sara said. “He doesn’t have injuries, he works out three days a week in the weight room and he works out year round. ... But it just wasn’t an option.
“I didn’t have to say anything, we just looked at each other. His heart was broken and I felt terrible for him because his dream was gone. He just wanted to play so hard for his coaches and teammates.”
When the game was over, Anthony reflected on the memories made with his teammates over the years and rather let the emotional pain of the moment linger, he chose to move forward.
“It was hard in the locker room afterwards, but you just need to accept it,” Anthony said. “It was over, there was nothing we could do at that point. Since we were younger, we always played football. We loved football. It was still a great season. It was sad to see it end like that, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
The Prep Bowl kicked off early in the morning. Maher returned home later that evening and immediately got X-rays on his ankle to find no structural damage.
With a wrestling season to prepare for, Maher received treatment on his ankle three days a week at Health Enhancement in Bird Island.
From there, the senior had physical therapy before every wrestling practice. Speaking of wrestling practice, he attended every single one, but was not cleared to return to the mat. Instead, he was advised to work out in the weight room, ride the elliptical bike and work on his conditioning.
“I was trying to get into wrestling shape without wrestling,” Anthony remarked.
“It hurt me just for the fact that even though he came to every single practice, his physical leadership of him actually being on the mat in the wrestling room was missing,” BOLD wrestling head coach Matt Zupke said.
Following the same routine for three weeks, Maher eventually returned to the mat during practice just prior to the Christmas break. His work on the mat was initially light before ramping it up for his first match.
“I’ve told a number of people, out of all the kids I’ve worked with at BOLD, and I’ve been at BOLD since 2010, I’ve never met a harder worker than him,” Zupke said. “Even during his rehab, he still would always ask me: ‘What can I do? What can I do?’ And I always had to pull the reins back.”
On Jan. 3, Maher made his season debut during a meet against New Ulm and Redwood Valley. Wrestling at 182 in each match, he captured a 6-2 decision over Eagles senior John Mehlhop and a 12-3 majority decision over Cardinals senior Andy Fischer.
“It felt great. It felt like forever that I was off the mat, though,” Anthony said. “It felt really good to be back with my teammates and participating with them.
One day later wrestling at 170, Maher picked up a pair of falls and a decision to take first place at the Hopkins Paul Bengston Tournament. During one of his matches, an opponent accidentally punched him in the face. But even with a face mask, he emerged victorious.
“I’ve just been really impressed with how well he’s been able to come back right where he left off as of last season,” Zupke said.
Sara Maher says her son’s work ethic comes from his father, Tom. With that instilled in him, Anthony is a busy young man.
Aside from athletics, the BOLD senior is the president of the school’s National Honor Society, student council president, a member of the Future Farmers of America and a participant in loads of community service.
“He has really good people (around him),” Sara said. “He has awesome teachers, his coaches, and his father, sister and brother and family that are encouraging him. He has a strong work ethic. But his school, from the principal to the coaches and the teachers, are all so supportive.”
After graduating high school, Maher hopes to start his own car-detailing business, plans to attend Ridgewater College and later, the University of Minnesota to major in mortuary science.
Before he enters the next chapter of his life, Maher has made it a point to be a mentor and a leader.
The senior is that one person calling and sending text messages to teammates to make sure everyone is ready to go in the weight room. For the young teammates who don’t have a vehicle for 5:30 a.m. conditioning, he will often give them a ride. During practice, he’s the one making sure the wrestlers are doing the right thing for drilling.
It’s no wonder why he won Minnesota’s Positive Athlete Award for wrestling as a junior and is nominated again this year (Minnesota Positive Athlete Awards are given out in every high school sport).
“His selflessness is what stands him apart from everybody else,” Zupke said. “He’s willing to give back to his community. He mentors a lot of kids at school and goes out of his way to help people. That’s just something you don’t see a lot in kids anymore, or adults.”