University of Central Oklahoma wrestling manager James Price observes a UCO wrestling tournament against Fort Hays State University from the sidelines on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. (Ryan Naeve/ The Vista)
Minutes before the duel begins, the packed crowd at Hamilton Field House patiently waits for the UCO wrestling team to come out. As the lights go down and the music begins, the audience turns their heads in excitement to the tunnel as they anticipate the stampede of Bronchos rushing the mat. The music drops and 28-year-old manager James Price leads the team into battle.
“It feels good,” Price said.
Price became one of UCO’s managers nearly a decade ago. He started managing teams back in high school at Edmond North, where he was a manager for both the wrestling and baseball teams. After high school, some Edmond North wrestlers became UCO wrestlers and decided to have Price come along with them as a manager. Former head coach David James welcomed Price with open arms.
“Coach James was thrilled to have him,” Margo Price, James’ mother, said.
The only problem he faced as manager was getting rides home from practice and the duels. Price cannot drive a car because he has autism. He was diagnosed when he was two and a half years old.
Since he started as a wrestling manager, UCO wrestlers have had a tradition of giving one person the responsibility of taking him home.
“I wanted one that I could trust,” Margot Price said.
Colby and Conner Robinson were the first UCO wrestlers to give Price rides home. After they graduated, they passed the torch to former national champion and three time All-American, Chris Watson.
“For our program ,James is a very special person to us,” Watson said.
Watson drove Price home for the four years he was on the team.
“He is more apart of the family than we are,” Watson said.
During Watson’s senior season, he had to decide who was going to be Price’s next driver. He chose Caleb Hawes, who is currently a sophomore.
“He is a kind-hearted person and puts others first,” Watson said.
Price was already familiar with Hawes’ wrestling history before he ever stepped foot on a UCO mat.
Hawes has been driving Price home for two years now after practices and duels. “He’s a blast to be around. Everyday he is looking to make other people happy,” Hawes said.
Before meeting Price, Hawes had never been around someone with autism. “That dude takes care of himself probably better than I take care of myself,” Hawes said.
Over the past two years, Hawes and Price have grown even closer.
“I kind of look at it more like brothers.” Hawes said.
Their relationship has possibly even changed some of Hawes’ future plans. “I’ve contemplated going into teaching special needs.” Hawes said.
Off the mat, Price is busy with many other activities including choir, participating in several recreational sports and working at Sonic and Joe’s Pizza.
“He kind of makes you realize there’s a lot more to living then just what you are in right now.” Hawes said. “He probably helps me more than I help him.”
Price’s managerial duties include helping the mat maids fold laundry and energizing the team during practice, but what Price lives for are the duals, where he sits beside the trainers and motivates the team. His greatest contribution to team morale is his heart.