When Mark Hall Jr. started competitive wrestling at age 6, he went more than a year before he won a single match. In fact, during one tournament in Tennessee he lost seven straight matches.
But rather than being discouraged, the Hall family looks back on those early days fondly.
"He was having a ball. It was the best time we had in wrestling — when he lost everything," his father, Mark Sr., told MaxPreps. "There were no expectations. He was just having fun. We'd put him in two or three different age groups, always making sure he'd get beat. The more he got beat, the harder he'd drive. Once he got to winning and was expected to win, if he lost he'd get criticism."
Losing has truly paid off for Mark Hall, because although he is just a freshman at Apple Valley (Minn.)
he is ranked No. 1 in the nation by at least two publications (Inter-Mat and Flo) — not just No. 1 in his weight class (152 pounds), but No. 1 in all
He has already won two state championships (also placed second in Kentucky) and his goal is to become the first six-time state champion in wrestling-rich Minnesota history.
"It's always in my mind," he said of the record title search. "Every time I step on the mat, I want to be the first six-time state champion."
The 5-foot-8, 15-year-old phenom is proud but not boastful when it comes to his lofty ranking.
"It feels awesome. It's a very high feat as a freshman, but there's more I can do to be the best pound-for-pound guy," he said. "Now I just have to keep working hard and stay humble. Wrestling is a really intense sport. There's nobody you can blame your mistakes on. You and your opponent go to war. It's an easy way to measure where you're at and how good you are becoming."Tradition
The Hall family has its roots in Michigan. Mark played soccer from ages 4 to 10 and he attributes his quickness on the mat to his background in that sport.
He got his interest in wrestling from an older brother and his father, who was a state runner-up at 185 pounds in 1976.
Between ages 9 and 12, Mark Jr. wrestled an amazing 250 matches throughout the country each summer.
One year his father told him, "We've got to take a break. We need a couple weeks off." Mark Jr. started crying.
They are as close as any father-son duo can be.
Mark Jr. is incredibly grateful for his father's guidance, saying he keeps him on the right path.
Mark Sr. says that all the moving and travel are in an effort to make his son the best he can possibly be.
Mark and his father are students of the sport and, when he was preparing to enter seventh grade in Goodrich, Mich., he asked his father if they could move to Union, Ky., so he could wrestle varsity at Ryle High School. Their research revealed that Ryle had some talented athletes (two state champions) whom he could work out against every day in practice and many of their meets were against teams in Ohio — one of the top wrestling states in the country.
An added bonus: Kentucky is one of the few places where seventh and eighth graders can compete for a state championship.
Well, he almost made it. He compiled a 42-3 record at 119 pounds and finished second (6-2 loss) to the defending state champion, who was a senior.
"I was real proud of myself, that I could wrestle all those older guys," he said. "But it kind of left an empty feeling."
Ryle coach Tim Ruschell was thrilled to have Hall, even for just one year.
"I knew right away that he had certain things you can't teach. He's a natural," said Ruschell. "He never ever got in bad position and never seemed to get rattled. He finessed them and was a true master of the sport. It was a joy to have him on our team. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the Olympics."
With a never-ending thirst to get better, Mark asked his father to make another move — this time to national powerhouse Apple Valley. Young for an eighth grader, he decided to repeat seventh grade, an action which is often taken for athletes in many sports during their junior high years.
Mark explained, "I looked it up and saw that they (Apple Valley) were phenomenal. I was looking at my long-term goals. It was a big change, but would help in the long run. (Practice) was actually the main part that went into it. I got beat up a lot more on (our) wrestling mat than against regular competition. I wrestled everybody from 119 to 171 pounds."
Highly-successful coach Jim Jackson welcomed the newcomer with open arms, even though he already had had his share of great wrestlers.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," said Jackson. "He's good enough to play Division I college football (though he never has played the sport). He has an incredible demeanor for a kid his age. Nothing rattles him. He's the best kid I've ever seen at this stage of his career. One of my regrets is that I quit coaching (last year)."
On the outside, nobody can detect an ounce of nervousness or fear.
However, Mark admits, "I can't think about the match. I have people tell jokes to keep myself level and not too pumped. Inside I do think. It's just human nature. If anybody tells you they're not nervous they're lying. I think there is pressure, but I don't let it get to me too much."
Another coach who has also been greatly impressed by Hall is Bill Demaray, who started the Apple Valley program in 1976. He pointed out several factors which he feels have contributed to the youngster's ultra-successful career.
"He's been committed to the sport on a year-around basis for quite a few years," said Demaray. "He is really a gifted athlete with cat-like balance and hard to score on. And he's a very hard worker. His father spends, time, money and energy with him."
Add great coaching at every stop to the youngster's resume.
Demaray, who watched with interest as Hall befriended an injured athlete and another with cancer, said, "I can't say enough about his personality and willingness to give back to the sport and to other people. At a young age, that's pretty unique. He's the kind of kid that anyone would want to coach."
Mark explained, "I just talk to people (with problems) to let them know that God has a plan for them. I tell them there never is an absolute 'worst' in their lives and they can overcome that adversity. They should take life day by day."Dominance
All Mark did as a seventh grader was post a 46-3 record and win the Class AAA state title at 130 pounds.
He'll never forget his incredible semifinal victory, overcoming a 5-0 deficit in the first 30 seconds to post an overtime victory against Ben Morgan, a talented junior. He still calls that comeback, perhaps, the greatest feeling he's ever had. He then won the title match by a commanding 8-1 margin.
Nothing was going to stop Hall as an eighth grader. He compiled a perfect 43-0 record and won his second state title with a pin, this time at 145 pounds.
Despite the impressive state title, he will probably be most remembered for a courageous effort during The Clash, one of the nation's premier tournaments, in Rochester, Minn. He pulled a hamstring muscle during the first 30 seconds of the championship match against Marcus Scheidel.
Refusing to forfeit, the mentally-tough teenager battled.
"The pain just got worse and worse," he said. "I had to fight through it."
He trailed 6-2 with 30 seconds left and was still down 6-4 with seven seconds remaining before getting a takedown and winning in overtime.
How bad was the injury? It kept him on the sidelines for the following three weeks.
This year Mark has posted a 14-0 record — all pins — and has won his last 80 high school matches.
Outside of prep competition, he wrestled up a class to beat No. 2 nationally-ranked Isaiah Martinez 9-5 for the championship during a talent-laden meet in Las Vegas, called the Freak Show. He has also won titles in such places as Fargo, N.D., Greensboro, N.C., Columbus, Ohio and Maracaibo, Venezuela.
"He is on a mission," first-year head coach Dalen Wasmund says of his young superstar. "I think he deserves his ranking so far. He has backed it up every single week. He's not afraid to wrestle good kids. He knows it makes him better and is excited to have that kind of a challenge. Sometimes he looks like he's in slow motion, but he is just so smooth. He is a combination of power, speed, agility and balance. Then add competitive spirit."
Mark's ultimate goals appear to be national college and Olympic championships. He was an Academic All-State selection last year and had grades to attend the college of his choice.
He already has a head start on the Olympics, having worked out twice a day this past March through August at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"They love him out there," said Mark Sr. "They want him to come out and train and go to school out there."
What if Mark doesn't win the next four state titles to achieve one of his major goals? Will he elect to join the Olympic Training Center earlier than anticipated?
Replying with an emphatic "no", Mark Sr. said, "If he gets beat, he will stay at Apple Valley, because he has something to prove. When he gets beat, he just comes back harder and stronger."
Mark Jr. puts it this way: "Right now I have my options open, but I don't look ahead. It's whatever God throws at me."
The Eagles' star claims he takes a month off in the summer and a month off following the high school season.
However, his father revealed that he took off just four days in the spring and even when he's taking a "break" in the summer, he's coaching a club team in Michigan.
Nobody works harder or does a better job of maintaining the proper weight. His normal weight would be around 170 pounds, according to his father.
Barring injury, Mark's future is unlimited because the mere thought of losing will continually drive him to the heights.
"I always have that possibility of losing," he said. "It stays in the back of my head."