Tragedy struck Dec. 3 for Alleghany High School senior wrestler Luke Hampton.
During a meet at Hibriten High School, attended by both Fred T. Foard and Maiden High Schools in Lenoir, Hampton charged an opponent during a match at his 182-pound weight class.
The 17-year-old’s life changed forever.
Breaking his C5 and C6 vertebrae by striking a padded wall, Hampton, then ranked No. 1 in the state in his weight class, became paralyzed from the neck down.
The Hampton family immediately sought help. All of Catawba County’s prep wrestling teams answered.
Foard coach Mike Carey, who witnessed the incident at the tournament, said he was immediately touched.
“It’s a tragedy when anyone gets hurt, but when it’s that extreme, it is something you never think is going to happen,” Carey said. “His parents weren’t prepared for something like that.”
Making preparations, Carey and the Tigers collected money two weeks later at their annual Tigerland Tournament, giving half of their 50-50 raffle to Hampton.
Carey presented $300 to Alleghany coach Derrick Calloway in Hampton’s honor, one day before the young man’s 18th birthday.
“Usually, the money goes to us and our fundraising,” Carey said. “Obviously, there are a lot bigger things than buying mats or singlets. We wanted to throw a few dollars his way and help him out the best we could. We were just trying to help out another person.”
St. Stephens coach Billy Baker has an even closer attachment with Hampton.
“I’ve known the family through wrestling for a long time,” Baker said. “ These are great people. There are three brothers in the family — all wrestlers.”
Trying to contribute on behalf of the family he knows, Baker went straight to action, and his wrestlers stepped up for Hampton.
“We were going to do something as coaches, but our kids came to us,” Baker said. “Warren Boyett said that we had to do something. The wrestlers spearheaded it, went out and collected donations. They tried to help this family out.”
Through various donations and collections from the Hickory community, St. Stephens donated just under $1,600 to Hampton.
The two schools aren’t alone in the county-wide fundraising effort.
Newton-Conover coach Eddy Clark attended Avery County High School and Appalachian State — the same schools as Calloway.
Since his accident, the Red Devils placed donation boxes for Hampton and pamphlets on his story at the gates of their home matches and tournament.
So far, the Newton-Conover wrestling team raised around $200 to support Hampton.
“We’re doing all we can do for them,” Clark said. “It was just a freak accident. When you talk about football, 20 kids a year or so die. It’s not like we get those injuries in wrestling.”
Maiden’s Sean McGovern, another coach who witnessed the horrible tragedy first hand, put together a special tribute to Hampton at the Blue Devils’ next match following the accident.
“When we held our quad with Hibriten, North Lincoln and Southlake Christian, we had a moment of silence, and took donations to be deposited in the credit union fund,” McGovern said. “We raised over a hundred dollars worth of donations, and gave the account information to dozens more people who did not have money on them so they could donate on their own.”
First-year Bunker Hill coach Jake Kittrell placed a jar near the entrance of his team’s meets this season.
A poster near the jar reads “Luke Hampton - Let’s Help A Fellow Wrestler.”
“So far, we’ve raised $103, which isn’t much compared to what was already raised by others,” Kittrell said. “Some of my wrestlers have also worn green socks during the season to honor him. We wish him a speedy recovery and keep him and his family in our prayers.”
Even schools that aren’t collecting money are helping give support in their own special way.
“We gave him a get well T-shirt signed by our entire team,” said Bandys coach Sean McIntosh. “It’s nothing big, but we just tried to be motivational.”
So far, the response from Catawba County, and the rest of the nation, has been vast.
There is a strong prognosis for Hampton, who is being taken care of daily by a team of 12 doctors. He was recently moved out of the ICU, and hope remains that he will walk again one day.
The county’s wrestling teams have certainly given their part.
“The Internet has really helped out a lot,” Baker said. “I think at one time, they raised over $60,000. It’s a sad situation that the wrestling community is trying to make the most of.”