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While wrestling in the championship match, Kyler Pemberton could hear his father. Even though he wasn’t in the stands.

“He just told me to kick his butt and bring it home,” Pemberton recalled.

Cody Pemberton was on the other side of the world six months into his third tour in the Middle East with the Air Force. Once a mainstay at each competition prior to his deployment, Pemberton, the father, had to resort to catching his matches

“He would come to all of my matches, even the out of town ones,” Pemberton said of his father. “It was a huge support and it just helped me wrestle harder.”

If there is someone who understands the hardships and the struggle that it takes to become a champion wrestler, it’s Cody, who became a district championship wrestler while at Bonanza High School.

“He’s a huge influence on the mentality that you need to keep wrestling,” said Mazama head coach Matt Penrod. “He wants to keep doing it not just for him but to make his dad proud.”

At the conclusion of his championship match, Pemberton beelined to the locker room to rehash his latest conquest — snagging a win over an opponent who had pinned him earlier in the year.

“He was happy, he was crying, I was crying, it was a good feeling,” Pemberton said.

To think, the conversation between two championship wrestlers almost didn’t happen.

Pemberton, now a junior, didn’t take to wrestling until his sophomore year. When the wiring 100-pounder didn’t find success on the hardwood, he traded in his sneakers for headgear.

“I was playing basketball my freshman year but I wasn’t very good,” Pemberton said. “Then Penrod asked me to join so I gave it a try, liked it and stuck with it.”

That first year, Pemberton made it to state, but just by a hair. In the fourth place match of the 2018 district championship, Pemberton pinned the opponent that he had lost to in the quarterfinals. That victory sent the first-year wrestler to the state tournament and set him up to have success as a junior.

“This year the work that he’s put in and a little more technique allows him to fight off and wrestle a whole match,” Penrod said. He has a good gas tank so he can keep scoring in the third round and pull out a match that he’s losing and a win a match against someone who’s better than him. He didn’t have that last year.”

Being one of the lowest seeds in the 106-pound weight class, he drew a matchup against the weight classes No. 1 seed. Pemberton was pinned in the second round. He then lost his next match by a single point, eliminating him from the tournament.

While it was a short exit from the tournament, all it did was fuel the fire for his junior campaign with a clear goal in mind.

“That just made me strive to get better and to win state this year,” Pemberton said. “This year I want to win it.”

This year he’s gone from the finishing fourth at the district tournament to the state’s No. 4 seed in the Class 4A 106-pound weight class.

To make that happen, he admits that he needs to raise his game to another level. If he wrestles as he did at the district championships, he will find himself on the podium, but likely looking up at other wrestlers.

“If I strive hard enough and wrestle like I did in my regional then I’ll place but I don’t think I’ll win it,” Pemberton said

In 2019, Pemberton is a different wrestler — one that the team counts on each match to score points.

“This year the work that he’s put in and a little more technique allows him to fight off and wrestle a whole match,” Penrod said. “He has a good gas tank so he can keep scoring in the third round and pull out a match that he’s losing and a win a match against someone who’s better than him. He didn’t have that last year.”

As much as getting stronger and becoming a more technical wrestler has helped Pemberton become a better wrestler.

It’s the maturity that he’s shown throughout the season, knowing exactly what and who he’s wrestling for, that has put him in this position, his coach says.

“It’s fun to see a young man take that on himself and do something not just for themselves but to take it on for someone else, you don’t see it all the time,” Penrod said. “Teenagers can sometimes be selfish, but it’s cool to see him knowingly do something for someone else.

brathbone@heraldandnews.com; follow @brathbone3