“There are bigger points than state competition wrestling,” classical Academy coach Sean Collins claimed of his 106-pound competitor Brendan Johnston, who decreased to wrestle two girls at the 2019 tourney.

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Michael Ciaglo, one-of-a-kind to the Denver Post

The classic Academy an elderly Brendan Johnston, left, shakes hands v Valley junior point of view Rios after that forfeited the third round consolation complement in the Colorado State wrestles Championships the Pepsi facility Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 in Denver.


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Michael Ciaglo, one-of-a-kind to the Denver Post

The classic Academy senior Brendan Johnston, right, informs a referee the he is forfeiting the third round consolation enhance to sink junior point of view Rios in the Colorado State rings Championships the Pepsi center Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 in Denver.


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Michael Ciaglo, special to the Denver Post

Valley junior angel Rios wins the 3rd round consolation enhance after classical Academy senior Brendan Johnston forfeited the complement in the Colorado State wrestling Championships the Pepsi center Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 in Denver.


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Michael Ciaglo, unique to the Denver Post

The classic Academy senior Brendan Johnston, right, shakes hands v Valley junior angel Rios after that forfeited the third round consolation complement in the Colorado State wrestles Championships the Pepsi center Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 in Denver.


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Michael Ciaglo, one-of-a-kind to the Denver Post

The classical Academy coach gives an elderly Brendan Johnston a must rub prior to he forfeits the 3rd round consolation enhance to sink junior angel Rios in the Colorado State wrestling Championships the Pepsi center Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 in Denver.


Once the curveball leaves life’s fingertips, the swinging part is up to you. The method Judy Johnston tells it, she just happened to snatch the an initial open seat she saw near the floor of the gymnasium in ~ Legend High college in Parker critical month. What she didn’t understand at the time was the the open seat simply happened come be alongside the one occupied by point of view Rios’ mother, Cher. Or that Angel, a small 106-pound wrestler at sink High in Gilcrest, just happened to draw a matchup versus her son, Brendan, a an elderly wrestler from The classic Academy.

Or just how Cher to be going come react once she heard Brendan i will not ~ wrestle a woman. No now. No ever.

“It to be a fluke,” Johnston recalls native a stairwell inside the Pepsi center during the 2019 Colorado High School activities Association State wrestling Tournament. “I had been told point of view is yes, really good, she desires to go the Olympics, so us knew a tiny about her. And the (Valley) coach come by and said, ‘He’s going to forfeit.’ and also Angel come over to her mom and said, ‘He’s going come forfeit.’ She to be disappointed. Her mommy was disappointed. And also me not being maybe to turn away from a complicated conversation…”

With Cher fuming, Judy introduced herself.


“Well,” she said, indigenous dancing closely to avoid stepping on any toes, “my child happens to be the one it is forfeiting.’”

“Why is he doing that?” Cher replied.

“She explained why she feel disrespected,” Johnston recalled. “I said, ‘I completely understand that.’ ns said, ‘I understand she’s functioned hard, but he feels the not proper to interact with a woman that way, come be physics on or turn off the mat, at this phase in life.

“So I kind of defined my side. It took a while, but she was able to sort of say, ‘Yeah, I type of check out your point.’ ns wished she well and also wished point of view well. And that was the end of it.”

Only the wasn’t. Not by a long shot.


RELATED: 2 Colorado wrestlers made background becoming the first girls to location at the state tournament. “She’s strong. She quick. She’s really good.”

In 43 matchups throughout his an elderly season at TCA, a charter institution in Colorado Springs, Brendan Johnston lost only six times. Officially. Yet five of those losses to be a forfeit, a self-induced clinical default, and four that those to be to one wrestler: Rios.

The fourth is the one it is going to stick in the record books forever, among the last dominoes come fall before a flick of history’s thumb. At roughly ten minutes after 10 top top a Saturday morning at Pepsi facility in the third round that the course 3A consolation rounds, Johnston huddled at one edge of Mat 8 v his coach, Sean Collins, to go over last-second strategies. That stripped turn off his grey warmups, very same as always. Only rather of getting loose near the facility of the mat, where Rios was doing mental laps in she head and also physical people along one more corner, the made a sharp rotate right, toward the main standing at the scorer’s table. There to be a quick discussion, part nodding that heads, and handshakes all around.

When the official walked ago to the facility of the mat, whereby Rios now waited, Brendan didn’t sign up with them. Stated official rather lifted Rios’ left arm, heralding her the winner and — chronologically, in ~ least, offered the minute — the first girl to ever before qualify, in the 84th installment of the event, because that a podium complete at a Colorado high college state wrestles tournament. Faith and principles won the end by technological fall.

“You’ve got to respect his personal decision to do what the did, and also standing ~ above his principles,” said CHSAA assistant commissioner Ernie Derrera noted. “And i think yes sir a bigger lesson there than wrestling.”

You understand what? He’d carry out it again. The walking away part. Not the wrestling-against-a-female part. No now. No ever.

“I’m not really comfortable v a couple of things with rings a girl,” Johnston explained. “The physical contact, there’s a the majority of it in wrestling.

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“And ns guess the physics aggression, too. I don’t desire to act a young lady like that top top the mat. Or off the mat. And not to disrespect the heart or the initiative that she’s put in. That’s no what I want to do, either.”

Johnston is forever a component of Colorado state competition lore now. He’s cool with that. His decision to forfeit twice at the 2019 state tourney — properly eliminating self from a compete he had actually a solid shot at winning — on personal and spiritual grounds quite than wrestle 2 girl competitors, might divide her inner circle appropriate down the middle. He’s cool through that, too.

“Wrestling is something we do, it’s not that we are,” Johnston said The Denver write-up before forfeiting come Rios on Saturday in his final complement as a high-school wrestler. “And over there are more important points to me than my wrestling. And also I’m willing to have those priorities.”

There will be debates that without those priorities, some of the dominoes that fell over the weekend could never have actually toppled in the an initial place. For the an initial time, no one, yet two, girl from Colorado joined a state tourney podium. When Johnston to be abandoning his bout through Rios, Jaslynn Gallegos the Skyview pinned Hunter Frederickson that Moffat County, cementing she foothold in the narrative as well.

When the dust resolved early Saturday afternoon, Rios finished fourth at state; Gallegos, that was on the other side the the bracket, wound increase fifth. The latter’s an initial matchup on in ~ the begin of the tourney ~ above Thursday? Johnston. He walked away then, too. Sometimes, you pick the battle. Sometimes, the battle picks you.

“I’m OK with the decisions ns made,” claimed Johnston, who made the very same decision a year ago, knocking himself out of the 2018 state tourney after decreasing to confront Conifer’s Cayden Condit, a woman competitor, in the consolations.

“I’m peaceful. I’m fine. I’m calm. Coach Collins always says, ‘Wrestling is what we do, that not that we are.’ for this reason I understand who i am. And my identity lies elsewhere. I’m fine v that.”


More than a decade after Golden’s Brooke Sauer ended up being the very first Colorado girl come qualify because that a state wrestling tourney, roughly 300 girls participated in the sports this winter in ~ 114 various schools. Society wrestling in ~ a grassroots level and also the success of women in combat sports such as blended martial arts have helped come pump interest, and participation, as much as the point where a poll on sanctioning girls wrestling statewide starting with the 2020-21 school year — new sport, brand-new postseason bracket, v the championships integrated into the schedule that the present title weekend — is intended in April, Derrera said.

“Are there pertains to that human being are going to proceed to perform what Brendan Johnston did?” Derrera asked. “I don’t recognize if it’s a ‘concern.’ but I think friend will proceed to see, for whatever their personal reasons are, the you’ll have actually males refusing come wrestle females. Similar to you have some females that have actually refused come take part in the male section of the sport.”

Derrera said the Johnstons have taken an “admirable viewpoint” top top the parentheses draw, as opposed come a litigious one; commonwealth law, that noted, states that girls and boys deserve to participate in any type of sanctioned sport in i beg your pardon a gender-specific alternate isn’t available. CHSAA has actually run a pilot regime with a female-specific state wrestles bracket in recent years, however Rios and also Gallegos chose to check their skills climbing the boys’ postseason ladder.

“I think, for the most part, world respect (the choice). Some of these boys are ready to wrestle — some of them, if you speak to them, they nothing look at it as whether lock wrestling a young or wrestling a girl, they’re wrestling one more wrestler. Once I to be coaching and also my sons had actually to wrestle girls, I always told lock to take it the ideology (that) you can not look at it choose you’re wrestling a girl. You’re wrestling a wrestler.”

Brendan Johnston’s decisions might leave you wanting to shake his hand. That may have you walking far shaking her head. He’s down with either.

“I wouldn’t say there to be backlash (last year),” Collins said. “There is a distinction of opinions. Coaches say, ‘Hey, is that the mom and dad or is the the school?’ No, that Brandon’s choice. And also he’s comfortable with it and also aware the what it way and is OK.

“There space bigger points than state tournament wrestling.”

There’s college next year: Johnston has looked into completing at department III Wheaton College, a exclusive school in the Chicago suburbs. Yes sir the bd’s Mongolian Grill on Wazee Street, which the planned on hitting as soon as he’d perfect cheering on his TCA teammates still left top top the bracket.

There’s no spring back.

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Not now. Not ever.

“How carry out I feel ideal now?” Johnston said, repeating the question. He take it the Pepsi center tunnel in because that a second, eyes darting to the parade of gladiators stretching and also flexing to his right, one ear perked come the cacophony that whistles come his left. The exhaled. “I feel good.”