By John Hummer
Napoleon High School junior Ethan Weatherspoon is a true champion in every way. He recently won the state of Michigan Class C wrestling championship at Ford Field. He beat Birch Run’s Brockton Cook. He had an undefeated season. But more than that, he is a champion of a person.
Ethan comes from a large family of 11 children – six boys and five girls. He is the third youngest. He has a brother in seventh grade and a sister in second grade in Napoleon schools. The eldest sibling is over 30.
Ethan is pursuing engineering studies at the Jackson Area Career Center and carries a 3-point-plus grade point average at NHS. He enjoys math. It’s no wonder; his coach – Carl “Chip” Bunker – is a math teacher.
Ethan isn’t the first Weatherspoon to bring home a state wrestling title. One older brother, Lelund, was a two-time state wrestling champ in 2011 and 2012. Another older brother, Jason, won the title in 2007. Wrestling is obviously in the family’s blood, as is track. Ethan’s sister, Kaniya, won a state championship in that sport, something Ethan has his sights set on as well.
“It’s part of the way they were brought up,” said Bunker, Napoleon’s wrestling coach. He’s been in that role for 26 years. He teaches upper-level math classes, including statistics and pre-calculus, at the high school.
“They were brought up to work hard, set goals, and go after them. Their folks didn’t make excuses for anything. If it’s something you want, you have to work at it and go after it. You can’t make excuses, or you’ll come up short. It’s something that’s been instilled in their upbringing – all of them that I’ve known. Their sister showed the same thing in track.”
“With my dad, it’s always been like a teaching moment,” he said. “He’s always on us about getting our work done and doing it right. Even with the state meet, he said ‘I can’t do it for you – it’s up to you if you really want it.”
His brothers play a big role in his success as well with a little sibling rivalry in wrestling
“It’s always been a good life,” he said. “I have a super supportive family. They’ve always had my back – pushing me and getting the training I need.”
Thanks to his hard-working parents, Ethan said he has been able to go to “the Y” for extra conditioning.
“It’s always been, like, push, push, push for the state title,” he said. “That’s what the goal is. Jason did it, Lelund did it, and Kaniya did it – now I gotta do it.”
Bunker said Ethan took some lumps his freshman year. The coach had higher aspirations for him his sophomore year, but Ethan hit a couple bumps as well.
“He placed, but not as high as we thought he should,” Bunker said. Ethan lost in the quarterfinals last year.
“He had that as a goal – to not allow adversity to get into your head,” Bunker continued. “We knew he had a shot of actually competing for a state title. It was just a matter of staying focused and getting the mental part of it right, and then put together three good days at the [state] tournament.”
Bunker said there has only been one time in his career where he hasn’t at least had one athlete compete at the state level.
“Our whole goal is to get every kid to the state meet – win district championships, regional championships, and place at the state meet. That’s what we focus on. My job is to make sure practices are set up to get them to that goal. It’s always been that way.
“I was fortunate to have some great coaches when I was here and some great coaches in college so that those good quality practices were modeled while I was coming through and now I can have those here.”
As for Ethan, practices are just as important.
“We make sure we push him beyond his normal comfort zone,” Bunker said.
Ethan said he was originally looking to beat Lelund’s two state championships.
“I think that messed me up mentally,” he said. Since he couldn’t secure a state title his freshman or sophomore years, that goal went out the window, and Ethan is now focused on what he can do.
“It was more of a mindset thing,” he said. “That’s all wrestling is – it’s a really big mental game. You have to push yourself past a breaking point to actually get to where you want to be. You have to keep pushing yourself. That’s where the extra training – going the extra mile, wrestling with the coaches, and actually having somebody beat you every time comes into play. If you’re better than them, it doesn’t help you out.”
Ethan said his attitude in his championship season was to come in relaxed and wrestle his match – one match at a time, one period at a time. He wasn’t worried about his stamina or conditioning. He knew he was where he needed to be there.
“I knew I would be able to sustain the entire match, no matter what. It’s more like a game you have to play with yourself. If you mess up, how are you going to get back from it? It’s a real mental game.”
Ethan said that at the state meet, every match is more and more competitive.
“My best two matches were definitely my semi-finals and my finals. I was just thinking about the next match, not the end project. You can get to the end project at the end of the day.”
And he did. Ethan is a state champion and a champion in more ways than one. He hopes to compete for a state title in track in the long jump and shot put.
As for wresting, he has a plan in place already.
“My goal for next year is to win another state title and to have another undefeated season,” he says. “I’m not overlooking anybody. I’m not coming in over-confident. I’m coming in relaxed and ready to wrestle.”