From the mats to the hardwood: Athol’s Caleb Cox adjusting to new sport

  • Athol’s Caleb Cox, right, wrestles against Mahar’s Henry Gilmore during a match at 152 pounds last year in Orange. Cox has taken up basketball this winter, with wrestling jettisoned to the spring season due to COVID-19. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Athol’s Caleb Cox (24) tries to grab a rebound against Frontier’s Adan Hernandez (14) during action earlier this season in South Deerfield. Staff FILE Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Intern
Published: 2/24/2021 4:43:01 PM
Modified: 2/24/2021 5:52:49 PM

As the worldwide impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continued throughout the start of the school year, decisions on whether or not certain high school sports were going to be played trickled into the collective minds of the MIAA. Football, soccer and volleyball were all postponed until the “Fall 2” season — scheduled to begin March 1 — with the hope that additional time would create a safer environment for players and coaches.

Winter sports in the area were allowed to be played. Wrestling, however, was pushed all the way back into the traditional spring season, tentatively scheduled to begin in late April.

Many student-athletes took the time given by these postponements to relax and focus on other aspects of their life. Caleb Cox, a junior at Athol High School, chose to do the exact opposite. Cox has high school experience in baseball, football and hockey, but his true passion is wrestling. He had a standout sophomore campaign, where he was the Central Mass. Division III runner-up at 145 pounds. Much to his dismay, news broke that the wrestling season was among the sports postponed due to the pandemic.

“When I first heard about the news, I was devastated,” Cox began. “Wrestling is something I have done since I was a little kid, and it’s what I love doing.”

Cox took the news as an opportunity to pick up a new hobby, finding something else to do to pass the time. A fifth sport was added to his resume, and he decided to give basketball a try this winter. Being an athletic and active kid, picking up another sport didn’t seem like too much of a burden. Cox had no background in organized basketball, however he had played at the local YMCA when he was younger, and his friends were adamant that he join the Athol High School squad.

“I played a season or two of Y basketball, but that was really it. My friends did a lot of convincing, and everyone on the team was really pushing for me to play,” Cox offered.

Athol boys basketball coach Dan Bevis said that Cox has been a pleasant addition to his varsity team.

“He’s been great. He comes in with a wonderful attitude and work ethic,” Bevis lauded. “I think the wrestling background provides that work ethic for him, understanding how to train and practice at a high level. He focuses on the little things that help him improve every day, and I think it has all translated well into basketball.”

Seeing that basketball is, to an extent, more of a team sport than wrestling, adjusting to the new dynamic of playing with other teammates at the same time — rather than being solo on the wrestling mat — might seem challenging. Given his overall athletic background however, it was nothing new for Cox.

“Caleb really understands the importance of the team concepts,” Bevis continued. “I think with him being the starting quarterback of our football team for a couple of years, that has definitely helped him, as well as him playing baseball. He’s had some team sport settings that he’s been a part of, I think that he’s been able to bring things he’s learned from those sports and collaborate it with basketball.”

Although Cox said he’s had a blast out on the court, he admits his main focus remains on the wrestling mat. Throughout the season, Cox has been participating in wrestling workouts to stay in wrestling shape while he awaits the possible start of the season later this spring.

“I still work out for wrestling when I can, I didn’t want to just let it go, it’s always there for me. Basketball is consuming most of my time right now, but with the season ending soon, I’m hoping to get back into wrestling shape,” Cox stated.

Cox said he appreciates Bevis and his teammates for welcoming him with open arms and making this new experience a memorable one. He noted the big change from wrestling, and how much he misses being on the mat, but he is thankful for the opportunity he was given to fill his free time while competing with his friends.

“Basketball has been great for me. It’s definitely different,” Cox said. “But it has helped me stay in shape and kept me active. If I wasn’t doing anything, I would be even more sad than I originally was [when wrestling got postponed]. The guys on the team have made it easy for me to fit right in with them.”

Cox began wrestling back in fourth grade, and has been a part of the Athol wrestling team since he was in seventh grade. He said it is something that he takes great pride in, and mentioned that he could certainly see himself wrestling in college, as his love for the sport is too substantial to leave behind after high school.

Considering Cox has been so accustomed to taking his talents to the mat during the brisk Western Massachusetts winters, stepping out of his comfort zone to compete on the hardwood is no easy task, especially because he hadn’t really played much basketball. The trend of the past 365 days have been much different than normal, and it comes full circle that high school athletes are adapting to these unusual circumstances by seizing the unusual opportunities that have come their way.

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