Pine Tree Wrestling League

Kelley continues mat dominance with second straight championship

Seventh-grader has racked up impressive 62-6 middle school career record
By Zack Miller | Apr 13, 2018
Courtesy of: Jeff Lovejoy Troy Howard's Gabe Kelley in front of the school's trophy case.

Belfast — “Every expert was once a beginner,” is a quote attributed to American actress Helen Hayes, and applies, without stating, hard work will be involved to master a certain task.

For Troy Howard Middle School's Gabe Kelley, the 13-year-old already may have, to a certain degree, mastered wrestling — before he even gets to eighth grade.

For the past three years, Kelley, a seventh-grader, has dominated league opponents dating back to his fifth-grade season.

In his first year in the Pine Tree Wrestling League, Kelley finished with a 15-6 record and placed fourth in the East regional.

In his second season in the league, Kelley made a huge leap and went undefeated with a 22-0 record, and his first PTWL individual championship.

Not bad for a sixth-grader to accomplish that type of achievement with two years left on the docket, but Kelley's expectations for this year soared.

That was not a problem for the youngster as he won three more matches this year, than last year, in seventh grade — in the 130-pound weight class — than he did as a sixth-grader, and still kept a goose egg in the loss column, as he finished 25-0.

In the process, Kelley won his second straight league championship, as he pinned Ethan Dunbar of Sugg of Lisbon, Josh Dunham of Mount Blue of Farmington and Tyler Hallet of Bucksport en route to the title.

“It was pretty cool,” Kelley said of winning another league crown. “I was really happy with myself with all the hard work that I put in over the year.”

“It’s exciting for a kid like Gabe who has put the work in and worked hard and put some time in the preseason to do some extra workouts,” Troy Howard coach Brent Waterman said. “He trains hard generally to be prepared for matches like that [championship one].”

“He’s very aggressive and becoming more technical as the years go on,” Waterman said. “I was pretty excited for him. He works hard. There’s a reason why as a seventh-grader he was named as one of our captains by the kids on the team, as well as the coaching staff.”

Being voted a captain as a seventh-grader was even more pressure applied to Kelley, on top of trying to win his second straight league title.

“It was exciting,” Kelley said. “Me and Levi [Woods], the other captain, were really excited, but also nervous because of the responsibility of being a captain and what comes with it. I just tried my best [to be a leader].”

At this point in his young life Kelley, whose father, Rick, is the Belfast Area High School wrestling coach and mom, Donna, the Lion girls swim coach, is used to pressure, and as his eighth-grade year looms, more weight will be stacked on his young shoulders to go out and earn the three-peat.

“It puts a lot of pressure [on me] because everyone is going to be expecting me to win next year,” Kelley said. “It’d be really cool and I’d be really excited. It would probably be the highlight of my middle school career in wrestling.”

“Well, unfortunately after two championships in a row, you would expect more of the same,” Waterman said. “Every year there are different kids in each weight class and being in middle school kids change weight classes quite drastically because they are still growing, more so than they do in high school, where you can kind of predict where they are going to end up. I’ve seen a lot of kids change drastically from fifth grade to eighth grade.”

Other children may change weight classes throughout the year, but the hard work Kelley has put in is the reason he is in the position he is.

“He’s a great kid, very positive and lots of energy,” Waterman said. “He’s very polite and a well-rounded student-athlete.”

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Zack Miller
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Zack has been covering the Midcoast sports world for the past three years. He earned a bachelor's degree in Media Studies from the New England School of Communications, where he majored in Sports Journalism. Zack is a major fan of the Boston Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox and of course the Patriots, as well as a die-hard Penn State Football fan. He also enjoys spending time with friends and family. He currently resides in Rockland, with his wife Meagan.

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