Jaden Bird was nothing short of sensational this season.
The Burlington High School sophomore, wrestling at 113 pounds, was a leader on and off the mat, and was voted Racine County Wrestler of the Year. He beat out Waterford’s Hayden Halter, the only other wrestler nominated, on a 4-2 vote.
Bird dominated essentially all of his competition with a 44-4 record and third- place finish at the WIAA Division 1 Individual State Tournament.
“It makes me very proud,” Bird said. “I’m honored to know that I must be respected by the coaches in order to get the nomination.”
Bird’s only losses came against state-ranked wrestlers, including Stevens Point’s Justin Groshek (No. 2 at 106 pounds), (Ill.) Oak Park’s Jake Rundell (ranked No. 1 at 113), (Ill.) Washington’s Abraham Hinrichsen (ranked No. 2 at 113), and Ashwaubenon’s Cody Minor (No. 1 at 113 pounds).
“This year was a little tough for the team because of all the injuries, but Jaden was steady all year,” Burlington coach Jade Gribble said. “He made a huge improvement from last season. You talk about a kid who was in and out of the varsity lineup last year and is now dominating all competition because of the hard work he put in.”
Bird was 10-0 in Southern Lakes Conference matches and finished first at the Slinger Invitational, Freedom Irish Invitational, SLC tournament, regionals and sectionals. He also led Burlington to its second straight Division 1 State Team Tournament appearance.
“He’s a goofball,” Gribble said. “He’s the youngest of three brothers and he’s like the little brother on the team. He likes to have fun and keep it loose, but when the lights turn on, he’s ready to wrestle.”
So how did Bird go from in and out of the varsity lineup his freshman year to star of the Demons’ wrestling program?
“My mom was a huge part of my success,” Bird said. “She taught me everything there is to know about mental training, the championship mindset, mental preparation and peak performance. She is a sports hypnotist and has helped a lot of wrestlers in the state, as well as others on my team.”
Bird also credited his teammates and brothers, Josh and Jared, for his rise to the top. Josh was a state champion for Burlington in 2013 and ‘15.
“I want to shout out my teammates for always being there for me and challenging me to be great,” he said. “We had a special bond this year and I’ll cherish their friendships forever.
“Josh and Jared both gave me something to live up to and I look up to both of them because they always gave it 100 percent,” Bird said. “I learned from them how to give it everything I have, train hard and be mentally tough. Their success fuels me every day and they both supported me throughout the season.”
That support was needed most when Bird was at his lowest.
At the team state tournament in the first round against Marshfield, Bird hurt his ribs and was forced to withdraw from his match. Burlington went on to lose 39-26.
“I went out there and gave it everything I had for my team,” Bird said. “It killed me to not be able to finish because I didn’t want to let my team down. I dislocated and had a possible hairline fracture to my ribs and also had a severe lumbar strain. I did everything I could to compete, it just wasn’t enough.”
Expectations for Bird will be raised to another level during the 2019-20 season.
“For him, it’s about continuing to get better,” Gribble said. “I’m not so much concerned about podium finishes, it’s just about that gradual improvement. Hard work will lead to success.”
Added Bird, “My expectations for myself are to win two state titles my junior and senior year and go on to wrestle in college. My expectations for the team are to improve every year and it would be great if we could win state before I graduate.”