NEWARK, Del. —
Making a decision about a child's future can be a daunting task, even under the best of circumstances. It's even more difficult when it's a life.Brooks Black
, a nationally ranked wrestler at powerhouse Blair Academy (Blairstown, N.J.)
, can thank his parents for making a correct, critical decision about him before the junior heavyweight ever saw the light of day, let alone his first wrestling mat.
Pam Black was 16 weeks pregnant with her second child when the doctor told her and her husband Gerry that they should consider other options rather than trying to give birth.
"I'll never forget it," Gerry said. "The doctor told us, ‘(The unborn child) probably would not be suitable for life.' And although they couldn't tell us directly, they were more or less telling us we should consider aborting the pregnancy."
Gerry says they never gave it a second thought. Instead, the born-again Christians had faith and prayed over the mother and the baby.
"We were never panicked about it," Gerry recalls. "Ironically, before we even faced the decision, my mother-in-law predicted that Brooks would be special."
Eighteen years later, that once-critical unborn fetus is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds and considered by most to be the top heavyweight wrestler in the country.
A unanimous pick on the MaxPreps Everybody's All-American list
, Black was a Cadet Greco and Freestyle National Champ as a sophomore. This year he has already successfully defended his titles at the prestigious Walsh Jesuit Ironman and Beast of the East tournaments, winning the latter this past weekend.
"It feels great," Black says.. "Someone once told me you don't want to defend your titles, you want to go back to tournaments and dominate. I've worked hard for it, and wrestled hard."
His parents have seen him win hundreds of times over the years, but Gerry says it never gets old.
"We don't expect or assume he is going to win," Gerry admits. "We still get emotional about his wins, especially given what we went through before he was born. We know how hard he works at wrestling and school and everything else. He's such a good kid. He never gives us trouble."
Black doesn't have time to get into trouble. Despite all his successes, the 17-year-old junior is driven to work even harder.
"I want to be the best," he says with a look of determination. "One of my goals is to be the best in the world. I think I have a great work ethic to get there."
The Dover, Pa., native first met Blair Academy head coach Jeff Buxton while attending a wrestling tournament as a fourth-grader. Black spotted Buxton standing in the crowd and went right up and introduced himself, shaking the icon's hand. Little did Black know it would be that hand that would eventually guide and shape his high school wrestling career.
"Coach Buxton is great," Black says. "He tells me things I need to work on and helps me out with schooling and other stuff like that."
Buxton doesn't remember that handshake in the bleachers, but the veteran coach will never forget the first time he saw Black wrestle as an eighth-grader.
"He was a big eighth-grader with a lot of passion," says Buxton, a former national prep champion who is in his 30th season at Blair. "He needed to develop as an athlete a lot more and develop his strength. But kids with that kind of passion are going to do well."
Black has done exceptionally well at Blair Academy. The private boarding school — according to its website annual tuition is $47,600 — is located in the western part of northern New Jersey. Its 450 students hail from 24 states and 20 countries. The 423-acre campus, which is located 150 miles from Dover, has become a second home to Black, offering him the right mix academically, socially, and, of course, athletically.
"I chose Blair because I knew it was the best place for me to get me to the next level of wrestling," he says. "And the academics are very good there, too."
Black's impact on the wrestling program at Blair was immediate. He became the first heavyweight to start as a freshman under Buxton, who has led the Bucs to the National Prep Championship in each of his 29 years (Blair has won 31 straight). Black placed in every major tournament as a freshman, which Buxton says tells you just how good he is.
"He is very technically sound," Brooks says. "He wrestles a big-man style very well. He keeps people off his legs and he is a good hand fighter. He trains really hard and he has incredible lungs. I send him on the 2-mile runs with everyone else. Normally, I wouldn't do that with a heavyweight."
Off the mat, Black is determined to get a complete experience at Blair Academy. His freshman year he was chosen to lead tours for prospective students, and last year he implemented a program where each week every wrestler has to invite a non-wrestler to the dinner table. He says it was a way to show the rest of the school that the wrestlers were just like everyone else.
"I wish I had thought of that idea," Buxton says. "But that was all Brooks. That's something an adult would do, not a kid. But that's the kind of kid he is. He's one of the nicest kids I've ever coached."
This year Black is roommates with a student from Kenya. It's something he says has opened up his eyes to how the rest of the world lives, and that not everyone is as privileged as him.
"They called me over the summer and asked me if I'd be interested in being his roommate," Black says. "And I never hesitated. I've been able to teach him so many things about the American way of life."
Eventually Black's privileges most likely will include the opportunity to wrestle in college. When asked where he might be interested in attending, Black's answer was like many of his bouts -- short and to the point: "I have no idea. I haven't even started thinking about it."
Buxton says Black is an exceptional mat wrestler, and that having that skill will help make him a very good college wrestler.
"Brooks' best days are ahead of him," he says.
Eighteen years ago, his parents thought the same thingJon Buzby is the sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and on the broadcast team for the 1290AM The Ticket High School Football and Basketball Games of the Week. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.