PRINCETON — Princeton High School coach Steve Amy was umpiring a Little League baseball game a few years back and saw a kid he didn't know, but knew he had to get him into wrestling.
Amy put one of his Tiger Town Tanglers, Peyton Hammerich, on the task to get his friend on the wrestling meets soon.
The rest is history.
That kid, Chase Tatum, became just the sixth Princeton High School wrestler to medal twice at state, the first in 11 years, by finishing third place for the second straight year this season.
He compiled a 39-5 record this year and won 106 matches overall, ranking 14th all-time at PHS. Had he not missed his sophomore season with a torn labrum, he would have finished in the top five.
“I didn’t know that. That’s an honor for sure,” Tatum said of joining just five other dual medalists in school history.
The senior 220-pounder also had the most takedowns (59), falls (24) and escapes than any other area wrestler.
“Seventh-grade was really his first full season. For only having six years experience, he did an amazing job, learning new things and finding out what worked for him,” Amy said.
It’s the end of the chase for the PHS senior, who repeats as the BCR Wrestler of the Year.
Testing the waters
Tatum wasn’t so sure he even wanted to wrestle at first, but came out at Hammerich’s urging to see what it was all about.
“Sixth-grade, I just put my foot in. I really wasn’t sure if I was all about the wrestling thing,” he said. “My friend Peyton, he’s the one who actually started me wrestling. It sucks that he didn’t get to wrestle this year (because of a back injury). He’s the one that got me into it and kept pushing me, and I’m here now. Can’t thank him enough.”
Coach Amy can’t thank him enough, either. It was the best call Amy ever made umpiring to put Hammerich after Tatum.
Tatum picked up the sport fast, claiming IKWF State runner-up finishes in both the seventh- and eighth-grade for the Tiger Town Tanglers.
Third is the word
After finishing third place at state as a junior, the last thing Tatum wanted to do was place third again. He had only one thought on his mind — move up to the top of the awards podium.
His postseason started with runner-up finishes to Eli Pannell of Fulton at both regional and sectional. Of his five losses this year, three (two by one point) came at the hands of Pannell, who finished as the undefeated state champion at 220 pounds.
“Eli’s a really good kid. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and is a tough kid to wrestle,” Tatum said. “I love the competition and that’s why I love the sport. You might not see that person just one time, you might see them again. You just got to keep trying to avenge yourself.”
Tatum breezed to victories in his first two matches, winning the first by fall in the first period and the second by a 6-1 decision. Then he ran into Beardstown senior Chad Grimm, who pinned him at 3:28 in the semifinals match.
“He’s a shorter, but stocky kid. He was a brute for sure,” Tatum said.
“Yeah, he was a really tough competition. Him and Eli, I feel like that was a really great finals match between those two (Pannell won by 5:04 fall).”
Looking back, Tatum wishes he would have wrestled more aggressively in that semifinal match.
“I was trying to be more of a defensive wrestler and stay safe. I obviously got caught, but it happens, and you just have to move on. You’ve got to be able to erase that from your mind and wrestle back to the next best thing,” Tatum said.
Move on, he did. Tatum wrestled back with a fall at 3:47 over Farmington junior Broc Shymasky before defeating Carlyle senior Dale Allen for the second time at state (5-1), to reclaim third place.
Now that he’s a few weeks out from his disappointment of not being able to wrestle for a state championship, Tatum is comfortable in placing third once again.
“A lot of kids work for this opportunity their whole life, but being able to do that not once, but twice, it’s a true honor.” he said.
Amy describes Tatum as an “amazing young man” whose “character and work ethic are just top-notch.” His character especially shined over his disappointment at state, he said.
“You always want to win that semifinal match. That’s your goal to get to the final and win it. To fall short twice and be able to come back and win that wrestleback match to get to third and fourth, that shows a lot about his character and who he really is,’ Amy said.
“Because that’s one of the hardest things to do in sports. All right, your goal is crushed, what’s the next best thing? It’s all about attitude and effort.”
Like several of his wrestlers, Tatum will often babysit the Amys’ two boys, Cooper and Hawk.
“When you can trust them with you own kids, it’s pretty special,” Amy said.
Tatum has the same feelings toward his coach.
“He’s one of the closest father figures. He’s always been there for me when I started wrestling in the sixth- and seventh-grade and stuck by my side the whole time,” Tatum said. “He’s always there when I need someone. It’s awesome to have him around. You really can’t pay anyone back.”
Tatum has a hard time picking between wrestling and football as his favorite sport, giving football a slight edge, because it was the first he got into.
He said wrestling has taught him a lot of life lessons.
“Wrestling is a sport that teaches you a lot about yourself and how you take and handle things in life. I really do appreciate what it’s taught me,” he said.
“You have no one to blame. In a loss or if something happens in a match, it’s just yourself. You can’t throw the blame on someone else. I like you have to hold yourself accountable when things go bad.”
Though he was hesitant to start wrestling, Tatum strongly encourages any young aspiring wrestlers to dive in.
“I would really encourage little kids and parents of little kids, if they’re even thinking about putting their kids in wrestling, I’d say for sure, do it,” he said. “It teaches you a lot about life. It teaches you a lot of characteristics about yourself and helps you build that into men. I feel that’s a huge thing in life.”
What the future holds
Tatum is beginning to explore the next steps of his athletic adventures. He is taking visits for football to Augustana College and St. Ambrose University and will be making a trip to the Naval Academy in April for wrestling.
“I can’t wait to take my visit there, just booked my flight with the recruiting coach,” he said.
Wherever he lands, Tatum will take the lessons learned on the mat with him.
The Chase Tatum File:
• Two-time third-place state medalist
• 39-5 senior year
• Had 39 takedowns
• Had 30 first takedowns
• Had 24 falls
• Had 15 escapes
• Had 106 career wins