Ike’s Cael Black competed in Spokane, Fargo for PA Cadet National Team
Summer vacation has often been romanticized in movies and television for creating lasting memories in the lives of adolescents and young adults.
Forever friends, summer loves and unforgettable experiences, all against the backdrop of sandy beaches or rustic log cabins. For most athletes, those things take a backseat to days spent in gyms, weight rooms and on the field as they prepare for the next season.
Sometimes, however, the grind of preparation combines with a little summer fun to create an extraordinary experience.
That was the case for Eisenhower sophomore Cael Black as he traveled across the country with the Pennsylvania National Cadet Dual Team, as well as competing for the Scotsman Wrestling Club out of Edinboro.
“It’s the people you meet more than anything,” Black said. “Meet different coaches and get different looks on everything. Sitting in the (Scotsman) practice room with those guys, we had five or six state qualifiers going at it every single go and a lot of regional qualifiers. It was good to see that aspect of wrestling. All those studs, all together.”
Not only was Black meeting different people and challenging himself against some of the best wrestlers in the state, he was also taking on a different style of wrestling.
“(Freestyle) is a different animal,” Eisenhower wrestling coach and Cael’s dad, Kris Black said. “The scoring is really different. Honestly, freestyle is a different animal than Greco and they’re both different from folkstyle.”
“It’s real high paced, lot more action, more scoring,” Cael added. “You can’t really sit back. Most of this season, I really sat back as a defensive wrestler. You can’t really do that in freestyle. It’s different for sure.”
As was true during his freshman campaign for the Knights, Cael came in and made an immediate impact. He won the 195-pound freestyle state title at Central Mountain High School May 18.
To get into the state tournament, Cael had to compete in a pair of qualifying tournaments. None were particularly close.
“The qualifiers are kind of all over, but nothing really close to us,” Kris said. “The closest one to us is Clarion, and that’s where he went. He went to Northeast Regional qualifier at East Stroudsburg. It seemed like most of the freestyle stuff is kind of based out of the center and southern part of the state, just not a lot here.”
Along the way, he grabbed the attention of the PA Team coaches.
“The head coach for PA called and asked about Cael because they knew he had won regionals and was a state qualifier and they were looking for a 195-pounder,” Kris said.
The call caught Cael off-guard.
“It was kind of hard to believe since I hadn’t been to a freestyle tournament at that point,” he said. “It was cool, a cool opportunity.”
The first tournament, the 2019 Cadet National Duals, was held in Spokane, Washington. The team held a training camp in Clarion before making the journey to Spokane.
“We go to training camp for three or four days,” Cael said. “We trained two or three times a day and got our weight under control. Then we flew out to Spokane.”
The PA Team finished sixth in Greco and third in freestyle. Though competitive, the tournament was more laid back than a typical wrestling tournament.
“They had music playing in the background,” Cael said. “Everybody was pretty calm for the most part until you get to the finals or that third or fourth place match. Everybody was pretty relaxed and just wrestling for fun. You see a lot of smiles. As you keep progressing through the tournament, it gets a little more intense.”
Cael’s freestyle state title also qualified him for the Cadet National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota. Qualifying for Fargo had been one of Cael’s goals for a year.
“Last year, I was at Lock Haven team camp and I saw some clips of Fargo online and I decided I was going to do it,” he said. “I wanted to be there. I saw some of my friends All-American and thought if they could do it, I could probably do it too.”
He came within a match of reaching that goal. While wrestling another new style in Greco.
“Greco is really big in the throws and stuff and it’s good to know how to do that,” Cael said. “I’m not really an upper-body guy. It’s real high paced, be able to push the tempo and keep going.”
Not even Kris saw how quickly Cael’s success in Greco would come.
“He was on the fence on whether he was going to wrestle greco,” Kris said. “I said ‘Alright, I’m going to fly out Wednesday evening’ cause that was the first day of Greco. I’m thinking he’s probably not going to do really well in Greco cause it’s new and he hasn’t done it. Wednesday morning he wins his first two, and I have to get on a plane knowing that in the evening he’s got a bunch more matches coming and he’s got a legit shot at being top 8 in the nation.
I’m like, ‘Oh my god,’” he continued. “I fly into Denver, get off the plane and my phone is just blowing up. He’s in the blood round to get into the medals and I’m like, ‘I missed all of this.'”
Opportunities to represent the state on a national level don’t come along often, and they aren’t cheap either.
“I saw the fundraising and all the money I had to raise,” Cael said. “I had to get all my sponsors. Those people really helped me out.”
Many local businesses donated, as did individuals.
“I just want to make sure we say thanks to our sponsors, there was a ton of them form the area,” Kris said.
Through it all, it was still the people he met along the way that Cael took away.
“All the people I met. It was really fun to meet those guys,” he said. “Wrestling was amazing. I was so thankful to be wrestling. But it was really cool to meet the guys I met.”
Experiences like this are often hard to define, but they always seem to leave a lasting impression.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but it was a fantastic summer for him and it was fantastic for us as well,” Kris said. “It was something that doesn’t happen very often.”
If given the chance though, Cael is absolutely ready to try to recreate it.
“I’ll definitely be going back,” he said.