The newest addition to Hunter Ritter's trophy stand is shaped like a stop sign, made of wood and has a gold medal placed in the middle of it.
The John Carroll senior earned the wrestling hardware in May after winning the FILA Cadet Freestyle National Championships in Akron, Ohio. Ritter went 5-0 at 85 kilograms — roughly 187 pounds — en route to the title.
While the first-place finish was the culmination of long hours in the practice room, it was merely the beginning of an opportunistic and eventful couple of months — Ritter is set to compete in the FILA Cadet World Championships, which runs from July 15-20 in Slovakia.
"A lot of relief," Ritter said of his reaction to winning in Akron. "I always knew I was capable of winning stuff like that, but never really did. I finally had my opportunity and I seized the moment."
Ritter's performance was an exercise in domination over his fellow FILA Cadets, all of whom were born between 1997 and 1999, according to the rules of FILA, wrestling's international governing body. The 16-year-old outscored four of his opponents 39-12, and pinned the fifth in just three minutes and 18 seconds.
His coach at John Carroll, Keith Watson, said Ritter's qualifying for the world championships was a byproduct of hard work over time. Wrestling, perhaps more than any other sport, favors the savvier, more conditioned competitor over an opponent with natural athletic ability.
Watson, who will enter his 27th season at John Carroll this winter, knew Ritter was a special wrestler the moment he met him. A few years back, Watson hosted a wrestling camp at the high school, and one of the eighth graders, who didn't have any sort of wrestling experience, didn't understand some of the technique he was teaching.
"This kid didn't even know wrestling had a W in it," Watson said.
Instead of teaching the kid himself, Watson assigned Ritter — who was just a sixth grader at the time, with hair all the way down his back — to help coach him. By week's end, the camper walked around the practice room like a seasoned veteran, Watson said.
"I told him, make this kid your project," the coach continued. "Make sure this kid can walk like a caveman, has a penetration step, hand control and can get out from bottom by the end of the week. And that's what he did. He's really good at transferring knowledge."
When Ritter finally arrived at John Carroll, Watson saw a kid who was quick on his feet with acrobatic athleticism. He said Ritter flew around the mat with a reckless abandon.
Over the next few years, Watson did his best to help Ritter control that energy. The results were two state championships as a sophomore and junior, a second-place finish at the 2014 National Prep Championships and a Cadet Greco-Roman National Championship in 2013.
As Ritter continued to grow as a wrestler, Watson knew there was only so much he could teach.
"We're just cornfields and cow pastures up here in Bel Air. We've just been fortunate enough to have a few good kids come through here within the last few years," Watson said. "But as we watched Hunter mature and progress as a wrestler, we knew we needed to get this kid bigger matches and get him to bigger tournaments.
"What we recognized was that we could only do so much for [Hunter], and there comes a time when we had to hand him off to somebody who can teach him. With a kid like Hunter, you know, he needs more than we can give them."
Ritter has found a way to manage over the years. He's practiced with other standout wrestlers from around the area — including Good Counsel's Kyle Snyder, a defending FILA Junior World Champion, who will wrestle at Ohio State next year.
Ritter has also taken time to practice in Pennsylvania, a state that routinely churns out Division I talent. He once got the opportunity to go up to Penn State, the four-time defending NCAA champions in Division I wrestling, and roll around with head coach Cael Sanderson, who won four NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal.
As part of the FILA Cadet World Team, Ritter has practiced with the very best in the country over the last several weeks in preparation for Slovakia.
In addition to training camps in Wisconsin and Arizona, the team made a trip to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where America's best coaches and athletes reside and routinely visit to train for international competition.
"Once you make these world teams, it really just opens the realm of possibility for your future," said Brandon Slay, the freestyle resident coach at the training center, and one of the coaches for the FILA Cadet World Team. "He gets to train with the top coaches in the country and some of the best wrestlers in the world. I'm really proud he's put his stake in the ground and decided he's wanted to be one of the best wrestlers in the world."
Before he left, Ritter said he was excited for his jam-packed summer, primarily because he'd get to travel and wrestle with the country's best.
There's a chance, too, that he can bring home some international hardware to add to that still-growing collection of wrestling awards in his room.
"Of course, I want to win that world title," Ritter said. "… It's such a great opportunity. Yeah, I might lose my whole summer, but you have to look at with a different perspective, like when am I going to have this opportunity again?"Copyright © 2015, CT Now