The take down
Basile High sophomore Gavin Christ holds us a few of the honors he has been awarded in his wrestling career, including a pair of LHSAA Division III state championships. Christ aspires to one day wrestle in college and compete in the Olympics but first he wants to beat his father Chris Briscoe’s mark of three state championships at Basile High.
(Gazette photo by Raymond Partsch III)
By: RAYMOND PARTSCH III
BASILE – Gavin Christ got the best of his old man.
Chris Briscoe was one of Basile High School’s most accomplished wrestlers as the former Bearcat won three consecutive state championships from 1991-94, and even finished as runner-up his freshman year. After high school, Briscoe then went into the work force and has made a long career as a heavy equipment operator.
Briscoe always considered himself to be a pretty tough guy, and when his son Gavin began to show an interest in the sport he had once mastered, he gladly showed him the ropes. Then one day inside a gym Briscoe’s then 14-year-old son turned the tables on him.
“I put him on his back,” Briscoe remembered. “He locked his leg with mine and then flipped me over and I screamed like a girl. Even the women were laughing at me. I was 40 years old at the time and I thought I was 16 again but I wasn’t.
“I told him if I ever had to fight I would get a stick to fight him.”
“I flipped him over and when I did that his knee popped out of place,” Christ said. “He screamed like a girl. It was kind of hilarious.”
Briscoe though holds no ill will towards his son because that day in the gym may have been a hit to his own ego but it served as a step forward for his son who in the years since has become a two-time and counting state champion wrestler at his alma mater.
“Honestly he has out done me in so many ways,” Briscoe said. “I talk trash to him by telling him that he will end up like a three-time state champion just like me.
“I help him warm up, stretch him out and I have helped coach him at tournaments. It is kind of our bond. He told me once, ‘I wrestle so much better when you are here’. He brings tears to my eyes all the time. I couldn’t be prouder.”
“This is something that we can do together,” said Christ, who calls his father his best friend. “It’s amazing to be able to share this with my dad.”
Christ connected with his father through wrestling at an early age. Briscoe began showing his son basic take down moves and conditioning drills that he had learned all those years ago. The talk between the father and son would often turn to Briscoe’s run of state titles, and that talk would inspire Christ to start competing on the mat just like his father.
“As I was growing up we would talk about wrestling,” Christ said. “He would talk about when he won state and how he approached each match and stuff like that. It inspired me to get involved. But I knew I had big shoes to fill and I wanted to really fill them.”
Christ though would have to wait quite a while to fill those large shoes.
In the fifth grade he joined the local club team and didn’t win a single match as he went 0-30. The following year wasn’t much better as he won only one match.
“I am not going to sit here and lie and say that I didn’t think about quitting those first few years,” Christ said. “I did but what kept me going was the bond that me and dad had with me wrestling, and I never stopped thinking about wanting to win more state titles than he did.”
“He couldn’t buy a win,” Basile High coach Kevin Bushnell said. “He didn’t have the technique or the strength. He was real passive kid. He got manhandled around the mat.”
Christ though made some progress as a seventh grader when he joined the Basile High wrestling team, and that first year he finished fifth at The Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Wrestling State Tournament and then took fourth the following year but still wasnt’ near being champion.
Pinning down the competition
Christ began to ascend to championship form as a freshman as he began to dominate opponents on way to a 24-1 record and his first state championship. Christ though credits the breakthrough to the intensive amounts of training he did alongside his friend and former Basile High wrestler Zack Vinson.
Christ would wake up and go lift weights at 4 a.m. for two hours, before then working on his wrestling technique for hours.
“That summer I began to realize that this was going to be my last chance to beat my dad’s record,” Christ said. “I had to get better.”
“It all starts in the weight room,” Bushnell said. “No one is going to out work Gavin. I told Gavin that when you go to bed then you need to be thinking what your opponent is doing and do some push ups while thinking about it. The kid is driven.”
That drive helped Christ start the season undefeated but then over the Christmas break his chance at winning a state championship was abruptly taken away.
“I got suspended by the LHSAA for the rest of the season,” Christ said. “It was a hit to the heart.”
Briscoe had surprised his son with an unexpected road trip during the break to a nationally sanctioned tournament. The father and son went to the event thinking nothing of it but when they returned they discovered that his participation was a violation of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s bylaws.
Christ had been ineligible for the remainder of the wrestling season.
“Honestly we didn’t know that rule,” Briscoe said. “We went up there and came back and then he was disqualified. We were devastated.”
Christ’s coach though made sure to keep his rising star upbeat and positive about the suspension, pushing him to continue practice and training with the team while he and others made the appeal to the LHSAA.
“Gavin called me at work and said, ‘please tell me that you can fix this.’ I told him ‘yes it is a stressful situation but let us handle that end of it. You just keep practicing and working to improve. I told him the season was not over.”
With the help of support from Dr. Bobby Deshotel, Basile High administrators and other high school wrestling coaches, including East Ascension’s Patrick Mahoney, the school won its appeal and the week of the Ken Cole Classic, Christ was reinstated.
“When I found out I cried like a newborn baby,” Briscoe said. “I called my bosses and told them that I had to go and see my son. I actually left work and when I got to the school he jumped into my arms.”
“Our athletic director told me that morning and I was on high all day,” Christ said. “As soon as I saw my dad that afternoon I just wrapped my arms around him and gave him a hug. That day was the light in the dark for me.”
up off the mat
Christ suffered his only loss of that season at the Ken Cole Wrestling Invitational that same week, a 8-7 decision to Comeaux High’s Seth Oubre, and wouldn’t lose again. At the state championships in Bossier City, Christ cruised through the bracket as he pinned Episcopal’s John Rollins to win the Division III 120-pound state title.
“As a competitor you kind of expect it on some level,” said Christ, who prepares for each match listening to hip-hop music and mapping out the match in his mind. “If you train the way you should then you expect to win but when you hear the crowd cheering once your arm is lifted in the air it like nothing else.
“As soon as I got off the mat though I just started to hug everyone. I was just so happy.”
Despite having a target on his back for now being a champion, Christ had no problems this past season as he moved up to the 128 pounds and continued to dominate the competition.
Christ went 45-2 overall, reached the finals of the Louisiana Classic, won the 126-pound division at the Ken Cole Wrestling Invitational (where he was also named Outstanding Wrestler for Lower Weights) and entered the state tournament as the guy to beat.
“Gavin has always worked hard,” said Bushnell, whose own son Raymond was a multiple state champion at Basile. “He wanted it. His goal is beat his dad’s mark in state titles. When you continue to stay hungry you will win. A lot of wrestlers will get over confident. Gavin stays humble and hungry.”
“I didn’t go into any tournament with a big head,” Christ said. “You can’t do that. I have seen some of the biggest and best wrestlers in the state get pinned in the first round. You have to always be calm and focused.”
An out of bounds mindset
In the state 126-pound championship match against Brusly’s Calep Balcuns, Christ would keep his focus but lose his calm.
“My friend and cousin Brenan Langley had just lost his match,” Christ said. “I was so upset about that. I was beyond angry. I went into that match wanting to destroy him.”
Instead of pinning his opponent for the win, Christ continued to put him down on the mat over and over again, as he inflicted punishment. That pounding caused a temporary stop in the match in the second round as blood began to run out of Balcuns’ nose.
“When he stepped on the mat and him being a young man I gave him time to get it out of his system,” Bushnell said. “I had personally had a cutoff point for him it just so happened when the time was called for the blood.”
After his coach quickly told him to snap out of it, Christ then looked up to the stands and saw his father before he stepped back on the mat.
“My coach told me to go out there and take care of my business and finish it,” Christ said. “I then looked up to the stands and I could see my dad and he gave me the signal to just end it and pin him. I think I pinned him 16 seconds after that.”
“He is very compassionate wrestler,” Briscoe said. “He hugs everybody and I have seen him beat someone then tell them what they were doing wrong afterwards to help him. That match wasn’t him. He lost his composure and I was livid. I was hollering from the stands.”
The emotion of punishing his opponent stayed with Christ afterwards.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” Christ said. “I was very emotional about it and I started crying. I apologized to the coach, to the other wrestler and to his parents. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. My dad didn’t teach me to be that kind of wrestler. He taught me to be better than that.
“I can promise you this, I am never going to wrestle that way again.”
Christ may have been embarrassed but his coach was proud of the nearly flawless take-down execution he displayed in the match.
“Look it is a learning moment,” Bushnell said. “Did he wrestle angry? Yes, but did he cross the line? No. I told him that he didn’t embarrass me or himself or his family. The other coach was a little upset but he had wrestlers that went above and beyond than what Gavin did. When I told him to finish it and he did. He has a soft heart and is a good kid.”
Christ now enters the offseason from his high school team, but is constantly training and ready to take the next step. In March, he will be competing in a national event in Virginia Beach, Virginia and is hoping to catch the eye of college scouts, and hopefully earn a spot on the United State Olympic Team for the 2020 Summer Games.
“I want to get a Division I scholarship,” Christ said. “We are not exactly a top wrestling state so I know my work is cut out for me but that’s what I want. I want to go to college and then compete in the Olympics.
“I want to do it for myself but also for my dad. He always wanted to go to the Olympics so that is something we will do together.”
“With his attitude, work ethic, and his development I believe he can go as far as he can with it,” Briscoe said. “I had someone tell me that if anyone could go to the Olympics that it would be Gavin Christ. That means the world to me.”