Entering the white, painted circle at 60 pounds of pure muscle, Asher Ratliff stares down his opponent five pounds heavier and a grade above him.
Unyielding, Ratliff shoots straight for his opponent’s legs and tries to get on top.
Ratliff knows his strengths and has studied his opponent. He gets nervous before matches — but in the best way possible.
Story continues below gallery
He thrives in the spotlight and has immersed himself in his favorite sport since age 4.
Ratliff, 7 years old, has gained statewide recognition in the wrestling world during the past two seasons with the Seymour Wrestling Club.
This season, Ratliff is 33-7 on the mat: If you include the local league, he finished 43-7.
In USA wrestling tournaments, the age groups go in two-year increments. However, in dual meets, it only goes by weight.
“Last year he was a first-year bantam,” said Justin Ratliff, Asher’s dad. “The age groupings go by every two years. That year difference is huge. I told (Asher) last year that he was going to take some lumps. His first year, he had lost just two and finished third in the state. That first tournament last season he wasn’t as strong as some of the older kids. I told him that it was going to be a growing year.”
Asher grew tremendously.
This past Saturday, Asher finished as the 65-pound Bantam runner-up at the Indiana State Wrestling Association Folkstyle State Finals in an overtime thriller at Ben Davis.
“(Asher’s) on the other end of the spectrum this year,” Justin Ratliff said. “Two of the losses came from a fifth-grader. In the duals, they don’t go by grade, just weight. He was a first-grader wrestling a fifth-grader.”
Against Charlie Whitten, in the first round of the championship matchup, Whitten scored a takedown for two points, and Asher answered back with an escape for one point.
Whitten deferred by choice in the second, and Asher took bottom.
Asher scored a single point with an escape to tie it at 2-2.
For the third round, Whitten chose bottom, and Asher rode him out, leaving Whitten scoreless.
In the final 10 seconds Whitten got a takedown to end the match and escape with a 4-2 win.
In his first match, against Colton Creech of Northeastern Wrestling Club in Fountain City, Asher won by minor decision (7-2).
The quarterfinals witnessed Asher win with a fall on Bulldog Wrestling Club’s Shannon Wright at 42 seconds.
Another minor decision win came in the semifinals with a 4-0 minor decision win for Asher against Contenders Wrestling Club’s Gannon Prosser.
At the Indy National tournament in February, at the University of Indianapolis, Asher placed fourth in the Bantam 65-pound weight class even though he’s 60 pounds.
Indy Nationals features the best in Indiana with wrestlers from Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee and more.
The year prior, Asher hadn’t placed (top eight) on the grand stage.
Asher lost to Danny Zmorowski of Ohio in sudden victory because they went three rounds with no score.
“It was huge,” Asher said. “It was a big feeling. I wrestled up a weight class. It was hard because those weight classes (at) 60 and 65 are tough. I was nervous in every match. I went to sudden victory twice, and I knew I had to go big right there.”
The Seymour Wrestling club, behind youth-coordinator Justin Ratliff, has kids from preschool age to fifth grade wrestling. The club has seen tremendous success as well as building a program for Seymour’s middle and high schools.
“I think there is a couple reasons for the success,” Justin Ratliff said. “The youth program has been going for five years. We’re starting to see some of those kids who have been wrestling for multiple years feed into the high school.”
Asher wanted to start wrestling when he found some old videos at his home.
“My dad wrestled,” Asher said. “I looked under our TV, and I saw some discs and asked my dad what it was, and he said it was wrestling. I watched two whole videos and got into it. I said I was going to wrestle.”
Seymour’s youth program relies on three volunteer youth coaches to help coach 61 kids. The parents who didn’t wrestle also have gotten involved.
“We have some parents who are former wrestlers who have the inside track and know what you need to do,” middle school assistant coach Matt Martin said. “There are parents who also don’t know much about the sport but are seeing what we’re trying to do — create a more complete person. I think we’ve got a lot of people on board to see where we can go with this. A lot of kids are willing to buy into that — they see success from their hard work and are willing to go the extra mile.”
On his career, in three years, Asher stands at 115-37.
The first-grader has no intention of slowing down.