There is always joy in winning, but Minnesota high school wrestler Malik Stewart proved there is sometimes even more glory in graceful defeat.
The sophomore moved many inside St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center to tears last week after he lost a state high school wrestling championship to fellow sophomore Mitchell McKee, yet poignantly embraced his opponent’s father, who is battling terminal cancer and given only months to live.
“I got a little teary because I lost the match, and I knew the hard times he was going through. The crowd went wild and I heard a couple people say after I did it – that was pretty classy – but I just did it straight from the heart,” Stewart told NBC affiliate KARE in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The young wrestler knows the pain of losing a father while young all too well: His own father died when he was just 7 of a heart attack.
Stewart’s ultimate show of sportsmanship sweetly stunned many who watched it and knew the McKee family’s struggle. His inspiring act was particularly appreciated by his opponent.
“It was a big match for him and to be able to hug my dad like that and not be mad and storm off like a lot of kids do,” said McKee. “Really respectful.”
Already, Stewart’s mature display is being touted as a model of sportsmanship by other coaches who watched the heartwarming scene.
“The whole crowd gave a standing ovation, not just for the STMA wrestler and his father, but for Stewart, who understands what true sportsmanship is,” T.J. Anderson, an assistant wrestling coach at Minnesota’s Dassel-Cokato Middle School, wrote in a letter to Stewart’s school district.
“Mr. Stewart is a model wrestler that we can all use in our examples of what a true athlete is.”