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Douglass' Terry Martin (at left) adjusts his fourth-place medal during state wrestling at Assembly Hall Saturday. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

A few hundred wrestlers made it to the awards stand at last weekend’s state wrestling tournament, but maybe none have come as far as Terry Martin.

He was one of a handful of Public League wrestlers to win a medal, taking fourth at 195 pounds in Class 1A as a junior.

Martin wrestles for Douglass, a small West Side school that never had sent a wrestler to state before, much less had one place. It wasn’t how he — or a lot of other people — envisioned making his state debut.

But his story is an inspiring one — for Public League wrestling, for Martin and for the people who refused to give up on him.

Martin got started with the sport as a seventh-grader in Oak Park and was on coach Mike Powell’s Oak Park-River Forest team as a freshman. But Martin ran into trouble his sophomore year.

“I was excluded from the team by my dad and coach Powell,” he said. “I was immature.”

“We booted him off the team,” Powell said. “His father and mother had made sacrifice after sacrifice for him. ... He had fair warning.”

This school year, Martin transferred to Douglass, where coach James Marable was willing to give him another chance.

“I don’t know that [troubled] kid who came from Oak Park,” Marable said. “The kid who stands before me is humble, hard-working.”

Powell and Martin give much of the credit for the wrestler’s turnaround to his father, who’s known as “Big Terry” to distinguish him from his son of the same name.

“His dad really put the screws to him,” Powell said. “It’s great [to see him back]. ... The first thing I did, I went up to his old man, I said, ‘This is because of you. You never lied about your son.’

“Like a lot of us, he’s a hard-headed kid. He’s his father’s son.”

“Big Terry” was a wrestler, too, competing in high school at Collins and in college at Northern Illinois, before becoming an MMA fighter.

His son has a bright future, and not just on the mat. He has a 3.4 grade-point average, and he has a different take on life.

“Me not wrestling my sophomore year was probably the biggest thing that happened to me,” he said. “I’m a hundred percent stronger.

“You get something [taken] away from you that you like so much — it opens your eyes to what really matters.”

Martin’s life could have gone south once he left Oak Park. There, he had probably the most famous high school coach in the country — Powell has been profiled by Sports Illustrated, among others — and some of the best workout partners.

At Douglass, it was tough to find teammates good enough to challenge him in the practice room.

“I practice with my dad every day, which is a killer,” he said.

Marable hopes Martin’s success helps to raise the sport’s profile in his building and around the Public League.

“We always had one [talented] wrestler,” the coach said. “He was the one this year. ... I was just glad we had wrestling available for him.”

Powell, meanwhile, still considers Martin part of the Huskies’ wrestling family, to the point of coaching him from the stands at state.

After Martin won his medal, he thanked Powell for the support.

“This is why we coach,” Powell told his former wrestler. “For kids like you to turn your life around.”

“He went off and came back to me,” Powell said, “he said, ‘I talked to my dad; he’s crying.’

“It was just a joyous occasion.”

And a reminder that kids who go down the wrong path can change course.

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