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Shields leading Norton at 3-2-1A Wrestling following tragedy off the mat

 Semifinals at the 2020 Kansas Boys State Wrestling Tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays on Friday, February 28, 2020.  (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)
Semifinals at the 2020 Kansas Boys State Wrestling Tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays on Friday, February 28, 2020. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com) (KWCHCIK)
Published: Feb. 28, 2020 at 11:07 PM CST
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Norton sophomore 106-pounder Darius Shields’ mother, Lori, was a secretary at Eisenhower Elementary School in Norton. She competed in the Mrs. Kansas Pageant. Lori was 38 when she was found dead in her home April 7, 2019. Her husband, Damien, was arrested.

The Sheriff’s Department called Norton wrestling coach Johnson, and said they needed a place for Darius. He immediately went to the Johnsons and has been there ever since April 7.

“He can stay with me, and there’s no problem,” Johnson said. “And that turned into a long-term setup, so now he has been with us for almost a year. And I feel like he’s just part of the family. And I really care about him, and I love to see him succeed here.”

At the Class 3-2-1A state tournament Friday at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum, Shields earned his first match by fall in 5 minutes, 57 seconds. In the quarterfinals, he won, 3-1, against Jayhawk-Linn’s Corbin White.

In the semifinals, Shields won by fall against Hill City’s Carter Underhill in 15 seconds. White is ranked third, and Underhill fifth. He will face Goodland sophomore D.J. Knox (40-4) in the finals. Knox beat Shields by fall at regionals. Knox is ranked first, Shields second.

Johnson’s wife, Joy, wore Shields’ button on her shirt. The Johnsons have four children, three boys and one girl, all graduated from high school. All three boys won a state wrestling title. Shields helped Norton lead with 95 points, while Hoxie was second at 88.

Entering the tournament, Hoxie, Norton and Beloit were the top-three squads in the final coaches’ poll. Norton had nine qualifiers, the most of any squad, and placed three in the finals: Shields (39-6), Field (31-15) and senior Cole Amlong (28-5) at 170. Field is back after he was suspended from the team last winter and finished 11-7.

“I am just so happy for him, because he has so much talent and so much ability,” Johnson said of Shields. “He’s a very intelligent kid, very hard-working kid, and he has been a blessing to our empty nest you might say.”

Field took fourth at the regional tournament and was ranked sixth entering state at 120. In the first round, he defeated Council Grove’s Tom VanValkenburg, 7-6.

VanValkenburg, an eastern wrestler, was ranked second. However, Johnson believed Norton’s always challenging schedule helped prepare Field. Norton wrestles in multiple high-quality competitions, including as a rare 3-2-1A school at the Newton Tournament of Champions.

In the semifinal, Field beat Hoxie’s Drew Bretz, 13-3, a key point swing. Field has tallied 20 points, nine more than Bretz. Bretz had defeated Field at the Western Kansas Tournament of Champions and regionals. Field had beat Bretz at the Norton and Phillipsburg tournaments.

“Huge win for him,” Johnson said. “Not only on the wrestling side, but he was a kid that we had to discipline and remove from the team last year, but he stuck with it, and stuck with it. And has changed some things, and I am so proud of him.”

At 126, senior Camdyn Unterseher nearly delivered another huge win in the semifinals. Unterseher was not a state placer last winter and was ranked sixth entering this week. He fell, 2-1, in overtime to Silver Lake’s Kai Allen, a defending titlist. Unterseher, a four-time state qualifier, is guaranteed a medal.

“Even in his loss, that was an amazing effort,” Johnson said. “He left everything on the mat.”

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