K arl Palmer said he can remember setting his sights on Mark Sabo as far back as seventh grade.
In his final match of the day at the Colonie Duals on Dec. 11, Palmer surpassed Granville’s all-time wins leader just 11 matches into his senior year.
Palmer was 9-1 at the notoriously difficult two-day tournament and later continued his winning ways at the Ken Harrison Memorial Granville Lions Tournament.
Sabo’s mark of 145 career wins stood since 1985 and only one wrestler, Brian Ehntholt, neared the mark, falling one win short of a tie in 2006.
Perhaps more unique than surpassing the longstanding record was who Palmer’s coach has been for most of his varsity career – his father, Golden Horde head coach Steve Palmer. Setting that goal was something Palmer said the two talked about and planned for.
“It was something that we talked about. It was like ‘hey, look at this board; where do you want to be on this board?’” Palmer said. You have to work toward that, he recalled his father saying.
And work he did.
“You get these little pins, milestones, 25, 50, 100 and last year I got 100th (win) and I knew sometime this year I was going to surpass it,” he said.
Reaching 100 before the season was over left Palmer well within striking distance of the record given an average number of matches.
Palmer said the quest for the most wins in Granville wrestling didn’t cause him to feel any pressure for a few reasons.
He surpassed 100 wins early last season and ended his junior year needing just a handful or wins this year to equal the mark.
“It was nice not to be down to counting one or two matches at the end of the season; it was nice to kind of set my own pace,” he said.
Palmer estimates he’ll wrestle about 40-plus matches over the course of the season meaning the new school mark could be up over 175 wins when he wrestles for the last time as a member of the Golden Horde.
Palmer said he’s also able to compartmentalize.
“When things start to pressure me I just push it down and focus on what’s right in front of me. I do it with tests; I don’t feel anxiety over tests,” Palmer said.
In addition to being one of the favorites among the Horde wrestlers this year to make the state tournament, a return trip for him, he also sports a high 93, nearly 94, average approaching the halfway point of his senior year.
Palmer said he was caught a bit off guard when he finally hit the mark at Colonie.
He said he went to the mat knowing this match could mean setting the record, but when the match was over things got weird.
As the referee held his hand up as the winner of the match, he didn’t let go right away. “The ref just kind of leaned over and said, ‘Congratulations,’ and then he kept holding on to my hand and I was kind of trying to tug it back down and then I realized (why) and I was kind of happy and got that little adrenaline rush,” Palmer said.
Although he couldn’t recall the name of the wrestler he beat, he remembered he was from Division High School in Levittown, Long Island.
Asked what it’s like to have a coach for a father or a father who’s a coach, Palmer said it didn’t seem like a big deal to him.
“It’s just something I’ve gotten used to; I always have him there at home. We’re always keeping track of the weight or working out if I need to. He’s been a big part of getting me to do some things in the off season, going to camps and just staying active,” he said. Palmer said his father also helps with keeping him fresh, advising him when to take a little time away from wrestling to help him focus when it’s needed.
“After you give it a day or two of rest and relaxation you get back into it,” Palmer said.
Both Palmers agreed they have a nicely worked out father/coach/son/athlete relationship that seems to work pretty well. Coach Palmer said he picks his spots for when to be coach and when to be Dad.
Karl Palmer said he would often talk with his father about wrestling. “We always try to keep it separate but the wrestling always comes into the house we’ll end up talking strategy,” he said.
“I think you pick your moment of when you’re the coach or when you’re the parent. I think we have that innate ability to really have those moments of separation sometimes and I think that does work well for us and then you do have some moments where it blends together,” Steve Palmer said.
One time in particular for the coach/father was last season at the Section II championships when his son/wrestler won a trip to the state tournament.
Coach Palmer is a former state-qualifier who finished sixth in the state with Whitehall, making the pair one of very few father-son section champion combos.
As a coach, Steve Palmer said he’s thrilled to have a wrestler reach such a mark.
“It’s a great satisfaction and a validation of our program as whole, not just myself but many coaches here as well that he’s come up through, who’ve helped him out as well. I want to give credit to those guys like Mike Gordon, O.C. West and the others who’ve been in the room with him – it takes a joint effort to get a guy to that (mark),” Steve Palmer said.
As a father, the milestone is somewhat different. “Through many, many years and many matches that’s one I’m going to remember,” he said.
Professionally, Palmer said, he’s in a very good place right now.
He expects to place at least one, likely more, wrestlers in the state tournament this season; the team regularly competes for and is frequently the target of other teams when it comes to league titles and Granville wrestling is a well-respected program.
“I’m really pleased with that. They could be single season goals, and at one time they were but now we’ve got multiple goals to get done and multiple goals for different wresters on our team,” Coach Palmer said.