Commentary | State wrestlers Jesse Fulk, Fox Baldwin put friendship ahead of winning

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Staff Photographer

Manatee High School's Jesse Fulk, right, wrestles Jupiter's Joe Eavarone in the 160 pound weight class Saturday at Manatee High School. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

PAUL VIDELA — pvidela@bradenton.com Buy Photo

LAKELAND

Just after the Parade of Champions and just before the prep wrestling season commenced its final bouts of the year, the finalists at the state tournament jogged toward the three mats lining the floor of The Lakeland Center and shook hands.

It was and always has been a formality. Do you want to shake hands with the guy standing in the way of what you have sacrificed so much to achieve?

One duo stood out. It was Manatee's Jesse Fulk and Kissimmee Osceola's Fox Baldwin, who were about an hour away from duking it out for the Class 3A title at 160 pounds.

They locked hands, traded a smile and shared a quick hug.

Respect?

These guys got it.

Fulk and Baldwin aren't just two of the best prep wrestlers in the country. They're good friends who have been meeting on the wrestling mat since they were 5, growing and learning together while forming a friendship that stretches well beyond the final buzzer.

"We've always been good friends," said Fulk, a state runner-up after he was pinned in the second period by Baldwin, a University of Virginia-bound, four-time state champion considered the best overall wrestler in Florida. "When we first started wrestling, we'd go out there, beat the crap out of each other and then play dinosaurs with each other."

Fulk went 0-3 against Baldwin this season and 59-1 against the rest of his opponents. According to Baldwin, however, it was Fulk who drew first blood all those years ago during a youth tournament in Naples.

"He didn't remember it, but I lost 1-0," Baldwin said Saturday night after helping the Kowboys to a runner-up finish in the Class 3A team standings. "I remember that and not many people remember it. It was in a little cafeteria and I remember thinking, 'I can't lose this match.' And I lost it."

Baldwin and Fulk were buddy-buddy waiting for the medal ceremony to begin while sitting on the podium Saturday night, throwing an arm around each other and flashing big smiles while Manatee coach Andy Gugliemini captured the moment with an iPad.

Of course, this is a friendship with limits. Prior to their state title bout, Baldwin and Fulk ignored each other, even though they were standing a foot apart in front of the scorer's table. Baldwin walked in tight brisk circles; Fulk hopped in place.

"It's all business," Baldwin said.

But when it was over, and after Baldwin's arm was raised in victory, the two embraced again in the middle of the circle.

"He's a great kid," Baldwin said. "He's got good character and sportsmanship, he's been raised right, and he comes from a good program at Manatee. They've got good wrestlers and good people there."

Sportsmanship such as this does extend to other sports. But it means it more when it happens on a wrestling mat, just after two kids just spent the last six minutes trying to twist, smother and control each other.

"We'll see each other at tournaments," Fulk said, "and we'll be all buddy-buddy."

That ends when Fulk and Baldwin, two of the best at what they do, meet in the middle of the mat, and resumes as soon as they cross back past the out-of-bounds line.

Then it's smiles and hugs.

And heck, maybe even a dinosaur or two.

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on Twitter @JohnLemb1878.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service