Nearly 25 months have gone by since Center Grove wrestler Peyton Pruett lost his most ardent supporter.
Nonetheless, the junior continues to sense his father’s encouragement, whether the Trojans are practicing or taking part in a dual match or invitational.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 2, 2015, Pruett was with his two brothers when they discovered Jim Pruett lying on his kitchen floor.
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Jim, Peyton’s father, had passed away at age 53.
He had died from congenital heart failure.
Peyton was 14.
“It’s still devastating. We were best friends who did everything together,” said Peyton, who competes at 145 pounds. “We watched TV, would hang out, and he was my No. 1 wrestling supporter. He took me to every national tournament that I’ve ever gone to.”
An imposing presence at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Jim Pruett’s booming voice frequently would be heard at a wrestling event.
It wasn’t always that way, though. Jim didn’t start familiarizing himself with cradle holds and half nelsons until his oldest sons, Taylor and Dallas, began wrestling in middle school after getting cut from the basketball team.
Peyton, wanting to follow in the footsteps of his siblings, became enamored with the sport as well. Peyton knew his father was always in the stands studying every aspect of his competition.
Jim Pruett would have marveled at the resilience his youngest son demonstrated late last season.
After sustaining a spiral fracture to his left index finger at the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference meet, Peyton sat out a tournament and proceeded as normal. He won the 126-pound class at the sectional in Mooresville and was runner-up there at regional, all while donning a wrap over his left hand that affected his grip.
It was his second consecutive trip to the Evansville Reitz Semistate (he made it at 113 pounds as a freshman).
“I was kind of shocked, because I thought he would struggle. He adapted his game a little bit and was able to figure out how he was going to attack with (the bandage),” said Pruett’s oldest brother Taylor, 24, now starting his fifth year as an assistant for Center Grove coach Cale Hoover.
“It gave him motivation, too. He viewed it as if he was 100 percent, he would have been at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (for the state finals).”
Of the three brothers (middle child Dallas is a 2013 Center Grove graduate), Peyton enjoyed the closest relationship with their father.
“We always called Peyton his Mini-Me,” the boys’ mother, Traci, said. “Every time you saw Jim, Peyton was only a few steps behind. Between the three boys, Peyton never really wanted anyone to see him cry. He would go off by himself and deal with it.
“He would always say, ‘Dad wants us happy.’”
This was the mood the morning of Nov. 1 two years ago, when the family went to the Greenwood Park Mall to help Peyton pick out a new pair of wrestling shoes. As was tradition, the time together included Chinese food.
By the following morning, the world had changed for Traci and her sons.
Following Jim’s death, Traci had a hard time finding Peyton. She eventually discovered him in the back seat of Jim’s car hugging the just-purchased wrestling shoes.
“At the beginning it was really tough on him because my dad was there with him nonstop,” Taylor said. “The eighth-grade year was really hard on him. He was struggling for maybe a month or two, because he felt like he was wrestling with our dad on his mind.
“It really messed him up in that sense, but he turned it around and started viewing it as, ‘I’m going to wrestle for him.’ Peyton has a lot better work ethic since the passing, so I think it’s helped him grow up a little bit.”
Center Grove opens its 2017-18 season at the Bloomington South tournament Dec 2.
Those matches, and the ones that follow, will continue to be a family event, with Traci and Dallas cheering from the stands and Taylor instructing from the sideline.
Jim’s voice, while no longer heard, remains present.
“He’s always in my head when I’m wrestling. I still hear his voice when I’m warming up,” Peyton said. “During matches he would yell, but after a match he was always encouraging. It never bothered me once. Honestly, I loved hearing that.”