Friends and foes

One could search all the stories of antiquity and probably not find as fine a tale of two best friends — champions even — pitted against each other in a contest of strength and skill.
Usually, each respective champion lays his opponent to waste with a clear conscience and no mercy — but this time is different, because hate and passion are replaced with admiration and respect in this competition, regardless of who wins. Two champions did meet for just such a match in the colonial Eastern Shore town of St. Michael’s for the St. Michael’s Invitational on Jan. 28.

For a moment, the air in the gym went still and no set of eyes broke their stare for the preordained match. Whispers replaced awe and the cloud of gossip and chatter droned out any thought other than that of what would happen next.

Delaware’s finest 171-pounder, Andy Bokinsky, squared off with Maryland’s best, Josh Whitelock (1A/2A Maryland state champ), in the championship round of the St. Michael’s Invitational. It would be just another chapter in their long-running story.

At just 8 years old, the two athletes started their wrestling journey together, in Salisbury on the Wicomico Wolverines, and they have since developed into the wrestlers we see today. Because they’ve always been similar in size and style — it was only natural that they gravitated toward each other both on an off the mats. The old saying of the “cream rises to the top” holds true, and the fact that they did it together is especially gratifying for them.

“It’s nice to see a friend enjoy the same success that you’ve experience,” said Bokinsky.

Very few wrestlers in the state have the luxury of training with such a heralded partner but last season, the pair’s close relationship had a direct impact on each other’s state championship success — because, once the regular season was over, Bokinsky and Whitelock wrestled one-on-one in preparation for their respective competitions.

Last season, Whitelock and Bokinsky split their regular season match-up, each winning a match (Bokinsky won the Delmarva Classic and Whitelock won at last year’s St. Michael’s Invitational), but this year marked a new year and new match-up for the pair.

Since both know each other’s moves so well, the match became a matter of who could get to whom first.

The match looked like a couple of fighting snakes. Both wrestlers presented the crowd with a flurry of action and in just over a minute, the match was over. Bokinsky pinned Whitelock in 1:16 in the first period, in what North Dorchester head coach and Whitelock’s brother, Steve Whitelock, called “a coin-flip.”

“I definitely didn’t think I would get pinned,” said Josh Whitelock. “It was kind of a flip-flop situation and I got caught on bottom.”

Bokinsky admitted that he usually likes to feel out his opponent in the first period, but his familiarity with his opponent gave him a decided advantage in this match.

“I know he’s really good offensively and that if I were going to win, I would have to take the initiative and go on the offensive,” said Bokinsky.

Indian River head coach Jeff Windish gave Bokinsky the edge before the match but still wasn’t prepared for the result.

“I didn’t think it would go down to a pin,” he said. “Andy overpowered him, almost overwhelmed him and that says something when you do that to a state champion.”

Wrestling tournaments sometimes resemble marathons with a lot of down-time. With that free time, Bokinsky and Whitelock never left each other’s side the entire day and even warmed up together prior to the championship match. Their friendship has proven greater than their individual wills to succeed, though it has been that bond that has helped each of them succeed.

Opponents are usually thought of as enemies — especially in wrestling, because of its combative, one-on-one nature. Wrestling is one of the few sports in the world where one individual is pitted against another and the win or loss is theirs alone to bear. And many are unable to do either. Bokinsky and Whitelock won and lost like champions – with class.