Plano East wrestler receives support

Published: January 31, 2007  |  Source: dallasnews.com
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Donations roll in for Plano East junior, who faces more surgery today

Ammon Butcher was never a star as a high school wrestler. His coach at Plano East described him as a “program kid,” the kind who might never win a state title but loves the sport anyway.

Ever since Butcher lost feeling from the chest down after being injured in a match Jan. 12, he’s become one of the most recognizable names in area wrestling circles.

The Plano East junior is in an ICU unit at Zale Lipshy University Hospital, unable to speak because of the tubes that help him breathe.

Surgery a few days after the injury revealed no physical damage to the spinal cord. Butcher is scheduled for another surgery today to further immobilize the injured area.

The response from the wrestling community to Butcher’s situation speaks volumes about the bonds formed by the sport.

“It’s odd, the emotions that wrestling brings out of people,” Coppell coach Carl Stralow said. “I don’t know if it’s because the same people have been in the gyms together every Saturday for years or what.”

Coppell will hold a bake sale at its district wrestling meet Friday and donate the proceeds to a fund established for Butcher.

“We may not have room to hold all the food,” Stralow said. “We’ll be hawking everything we can cook on Friday.”

Donation buckets have been set up at wrestling meets all across the area. One collection jar at the State Duals in Katy reportedly gathered $500 in donations.

At Plano East’s own tournament two weeks after Butcher’s injury, concession stand proceeds and donations totaled nearly $3,000.

Arlington Martin’s wrestling boosters decided to donate the $300 they were going to spend on team trophies for the regional meet they’re hosting next weekend. They also plan to donate concession stand proceeds and hope other regional hosts will follow their lead.

“You’re at a tournament and every time a kid goes up in the air and comes down, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Janet Jenkins, whose son, Jayce, is a junior wrestler at Martin. “That it happened with him really hits home with a lot of parents.”

The Butchers, who have eight children, remain hopeful of a full recovery but are prepared for a long road of challenges.

Ammon’s younger brother, Daniel, is a freshman on the wrestling team but has not wrestled in a match since the injury.

“It’s been real hard on him,” Ammon’s mother, Barbara, said. “He’s still on the team. He goes to practices. It’s kind of hard to get your head in the game when your brother’s in the hospital.”

While his mother said Ammon isn’t up to being interviewed, he does enjoy the visits, cards and e-mails.

“The wrestling community has been fabulous,” Barbara Butcher said. . “There are lots of people praying for Ammon, that’s probably the biggest thing we need.”

While catastrophic injuries are rare in wrestling, they do happen. Three years ago, Midlothian wrestler John Prigg suffered a severe head injury when he landed off the mat and struck the wood floor.

Last year, Bishop Lynch wrestler Jack Theilen suffered a broken neck but escaped spinal cord damage.

A study published in 2002 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that catastrophic injuries in high school and college wrestling happen at a rate of 2.11 per year, or one for every 100,000 participants.

Another study, covering the 1995-97 high school sports seasons, published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that 9.5 percent of wrestling injuries are to the head, neck or spine. Only football had a higher percentage at 13.3 percent.

Wrestling also had the highest percentage of major injuries (those that cause an athlete to miss 21 days or more) at 14.8 percent.

“I have not witnessed a spinal cord injury, and I’ve been in a gym every winter Saturday since 1989,” Coppell’s Stralow said.

Area wrestling coaches said while there is risk, it’s not as dangerous as it seems.

“Necks are put under a lot of stress in wrestling,” Lake Highlands coach Pete Grieder said. “But broken necks don’t happen unless it’s a sudden impact.”

Butcher’s injury occurred when his opponent took him down to the mat. His coach, Al Koebke, said there was nothing illegal or unusual about the move. Witnesses said Butcher landed on his neck and his body fell over him.

“Injuries like this are one in a million,” Allen coach Jerry Best said. “I’ve seen thousands of kids land just like that and nothing happens. It was just a freak deal.”

Butcher’s injury resulted when two of his Vertebrae went out of alignment, putting pressure on his spinal cord. The morning after the injury, he could raise his right arm and move both hands, but not his fingers. He could not move his legs but could feel someone touching his feet.

How to help: Donations to assist the Butcher family can be made to: The Edward “Ammon” Butcher Fund, Account #: 3312226897, Capital One, 1221 E. Spring Creek Parkway, Plano, Texas, 75074

By KEITH WHITMIRE / The Dallas Morning News