A Blaine High School sophomore is being celebrated as a true sportsman for an act of kindness after he lost a state championship wrestling match this week, KARE 11 says.
Malik Stewart was pitted in the Class 3A championship against St. Michael-Albertville High School sophomore Mitchell McKee. Throughout the season, McKee has been training hard to get a chance to compete in the state championship as a tribute to his ailing father, Steve.
The Star Tribune says Steve McKee has had cancer for the past year. In December, he was told the tumor in his chest had metastasized and that he only had two months to live. Despite the diagnosis, Steve McKee has been clinging to the hope of watching his son wrestle in the state tournament.
"I'm still fighting," he told the Rochester Post Bulletin in a profile in January. "It's something I've said to the kids in everyday life. You keep fighting, you don't give up. They can see when I'm doing pretty well, and it bothers them when I'm doing poorly. But I keep plugging away."
Over the weekend, Steve McKee did see his son in the state tournament. In fact, Mitchell McKee pinned his opponent Stewart just over a minute into the final match to win the the championship.
But it's what Stewart did after the match that had an even greater impact on the crowd – he ran over to his opponent's dad to shake his hand and embrace him. The gesture reportedly led to a standing ovation and left many fans in tears.
"It was a big match for him and to be able to hug my dad like that and not be mad and storm off like a lot of kids do," Mitchell McKee told KARE 11. "Really respectful."
Stewart said he understood McKee's feelings about his dad, having experienced a big loss when he was younger.
"I went through the same thing when I was younger but my dad didn't pass by cancer. It was by a heart attack, so I know what he is going through," said Stewart, who was 7 years old when his dad died.
The gesture struck a chord with Dassel-Cokato Middle School's assistant wrestling coach, T.J. Anderson, who was compelled to write a letter to the Anoka-Hennepin School District to commend Stewart.
"The whole crowd gave a standing ovation, not just for the STMA wrestler and his father, but for Stewart, who understands what true sportsmanship is," Anderson wrote. "Thank you for making your athletes into what they are today, Mr. Stewart is a model wrestler that we can all use in our examples of what a true athlete is."