Steven Genthner’s high school wrestling career was not supposed to end this way.

The 18-year-old Genthner, a senior at Medomak Valley High School, was favored by many to be this year’s state Class B champion in the 145-pound weight class.

After handily winning a conference championship and the regional title in successive weeks, that fact was reaffirmed as Genthner appeared to be ready to bring home his first state title.

Then, in an instant, that dream was over.

Due to Genthner’s presence at a house where alcohol was available to those not of legal age the night after the regional wrestling competition, a scenario that essentially constituted Genthner breaking the school’s athletic participation policies, he was later deemed ineligible to participate in the state Class B championship meet.

As if being denied a chance to compete in the states were not enough, the fact the championships were to be held in his home gym at Medomak Valley really stung for the three-sport Panther athlete.

A chance to win a state championship in the gym he had practiced in for so many hours over the years and where he had participated in home meets the past four seasons was gone in an instant. All because of decisions he made and perhaps circumstances beyond his control.

According to Genthner, he went to spend the night at a friend’s house the night after the Eastern Class B wrestling competition in Pittsfield, just hours after he had not only won the regional title, but broke the school record for career wins with his 109th victory.

Genthner said he awoke in the early hours of the next morning to a house full of people, alcohol — and police officers.

Despite Genthner’s insistence of not engaging in an unlawful underage activity, his presence at the house led to his being in violation of Medomak Valley’s athletic code. Therefore, the decision was made by school administrators that he would not be able to compete in the upcoming state Class B championships at his own school.

And just like that, Genthner’s high school wrestling career was over.

Realizing his potential

Genthner has wrestled since he was five years old, and quickly developed a passion for the sport when he used to attend both middle school and high school practices, where his father Philip was coaching both the high school and middle school teams.

Genthner realized a few years later that not only did he want to continue wrestling, but that he could compete at a high level. The sport was also essentially in his blood, as his father, along with numerous brothers, cousins and uncles all participated in and thrived on the mat during their respective years wrestling for the Panthers.

“When I was younger I used to go to this Camden youth tournament and I would win almost every time,” said Genthner. “It was a lot of fun.”

Genthner won many youth tournaments through elementary and middle school, and also won the 111-pound state championship for then A.D. Gray at the 2006 Pine Tree Wrestling Championships at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.

He went undefeated in the tournament, and was also named the meet’s most outstanding wrestler.

The transition from middle school wrestling to the competitive nature at the high school varsity level is often a difficult transition to make, but Genthner felt confident in his ability to make the adjustment as he prepared to face the competition as a freshman.

Despite being one of Medomak Valley’s top wrestlers as a ninth-grader, he quickly realized he had a lot to learn.

“It was a lot different as a freshman,” he said. “I was getting beat a lot more and it was making me mad, so I wanted to win and I just started to work harder.”

Genthner finished with a 23-21 record during his freshman year, but knew he had to take it to the next level step on the mat if he hoped to reach his ultimate goal of a state title.

“I worked a lot harder,” he said. “I knew if I worked harder I’d get a lot better.”

The work he put in clearly showed, as he averaged more than 30 victories per season over the next three years.

Still, he could not get over the hump at the conference, regional or state levels prior to his senior year, with his best finishes coming in the Eastern Class B regional event the last two seasons, placing second both times.

Then, this summer, Genthner got wind of the fact that Medomak Valley would be hosting the state Class B championships this year, set for Feb. 13.

As if he needed any more motivation to be prepared for his last chance at a state title.

“I was excited,” he said. “I figured I’d be able to win it at my home school, senior year. I thought that would have been pretty cool.”

And this year as a senior, Genthner seemed to have it all figured out. And his goal was clear.

“To win everything,” he said. “I just wanted to win it all, because this was my last chance.”

First, he passed the 100-win mark in his high school wrestling career with a regular-season mat victory at Mount Ararat.

Then as the regular season concluded, he began his hunt for hardware with a first-place finish at the Jan. 30 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships at Cony High School in Augusta. Genthner pinned Mount Ararat’s Joseph Rinalid at the 2:45-mark to win the conference title. He was also named the meet’s most outstanding wrestler.

Genthner went on to breeze through the brackets Feb. 6 at the Eastern Class B championships at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. Not only did he pin Camden Hills’ Neal Harrison earlier in the meet to break the school record for career victories with the 109th of his career, but he also pinned Hermon’s Brandon Burgess at the 1:19 mark to secure the regional title.

As it turned out, that 110th victory was Genthner’s final match.

Looking to state competition

After the school bus returned to Medomak Valley and everyone went home the night following the regional tournament, Genthner received a phone call.

“My friends called me and they wanted me to come hang out with them and go [ice] fishing in the morning,” he said. “That’s something that we would pretty much do every weekend. And I was tired from wrestling all day so I went to bed [at my friend’s house]. When I woke up, there were cops in my face asking me all kinds of questions. I walked out into the room where they were all at and there was alcohol everywhere, people crying. It was horrifying.”

More than that, one thought crept into Genthner’s mind that horrified him more than anything.

“Something dumb is probably going to happen and I’m not going to be able to wrestle,” he recalled thinking. “That’s all I could think the second I saw the cops.”

As it turned out, Genthner and his friends did not go ice fishing the next morning as planned. Instead, Genthner’s father, Philip, came to pick him up in the early hours of the morning of Feb. 7.

“He was just disappointed,” said Steven of his father’s reaction. “But he [wasn’t] really mad at me because he knew [what had happened]. He had to come pick me up and he knew that I hadn’t been drinking or doing anything wrong. And I told him the story and he understood.”

“I picked him up, and I don’t think he was drinking,” said Philip. “He wasn’t slurring his words, he was walking fine, he was talking to me just like he does everyday. I think if he was drunk, I would have noticed. I didn’t smell [anything] on him. And I don’t think he’d lie to me. What reason would he have to lie to me?”

Both father and son received word Feb. 11 that school officials had made the decision that Genthner would not be able to compete in the upcoming state Class B championships, set for two days later.

“I was mad,” said Genthner. “I blame myself for a lot of it, for just going [there]. It’s always possible something like that can happen. But I also think it could have been handled in different ways.”

Genthner attended the state championship meet, and watching another wrestler in his weight class with his hand raised after winning the state championship match — on the Panther’s mat and in his gym — did not sit well with Genthner.

“I didn’t like that at all,” he said. “I didn’t even want to watch the match. The kid that won [Fryeburg’s Peter Bacchiocci] I’d beaten easily in a tournament [earlier that year] like eight or nine to nothing.”

“As a father, it just about ripped my guts out,” said Philip. “And as a coach, that would have been my first [individual] state champion. I lost out on one of my athletes being a state champion, I lost out on my son being a state champion. So yeah, it was pretty difficult. It was hard to even be here.”

Philip announced to Medomak Valley athletic director Matt Lash prior to the beginning of the season that this year would be his final one as coach.

Genthner plans to join the military after he graduates from Medomak Valley in the coming months, which is something he had made his mind up about last summer. He added that he is currently signed up for eight years, and made the decision because “I like to be active and I like adventure.”

While obviously his actions of that fateful night leave him filled with regret, anger and disappointment, Genthner hopes that other student-athletes take away from his experience an important life lesson in accountability.

“Make sure you know exactly what’s happening when you go somewhere,” he said. “Just try to stay away from anything like that, and make sure your friends tell you what they’re doing.”

And while Genthner’s life will, of course, go on, he will always look back on what could have been and wonder — what if?

“I wish I’d just stayed home that night,” he said. “That will stick with me for a long time.”

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.