CONYERS - What is it that defines a champion?
Is it wins and losses? Is it the hard work he or she puts in to be victorious?
In the case of Salem's Peter Yates, it's both.
Over the past four years, Yates has amassed a spectacular wrestling resume, unequaled by any other wrestler in Rockdale County history.
Yates went 163-1 on the mats during his high school career and was a three-time state wrestling champion.
How did he do it?
Hard work and motivation, Yates said.
"I think a lot of kids that wrestle aren't motivated enough. If you're not motivated, you're not going to work hard," he said. "For me, I just love the sport and I love doing it. A lot of kids just do it because they feel like they have to.
"My father started me out wrestling. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be wrestling. Still, he always kept it as an option for me and he never forced me to wrestle. But he said if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right."
Yates didn't disappoint, but the road wasn't an easy one.
"I was at a pre-national tournament before the season started my freshman year, and I separated my shoulder. I knew I'd be out for a while - maybe the whole season," Yates said. "But I healed pretty fast, and I came back for area duals. I wrestled at the area team duals, team state, and then I wrestled individual area and state. Conditioning was big factor because I hadn't gotten a lot of live wrestling in, so I was pretty tired in a lot of my matches. It was a big win for me because I was a freshman; I was wrestling older kids and was proving that I could wrestle at the high school level.
"After I won state my freshman year, I took a long summer break. I was satisfied. Then after I lost in the finals my sophomore year, I knew I still had a lot of work to do. That's when I started wrestling with Team Georgia. I worked really hard that year and actually got beat up a little outside of Georgia. I wrestled at the Fargo, North Dakota, tournament and I didn't place. I thought I was better than I was, and the kids outside of Georgia were beating me, so I had to work really hard. Fargo is the No. 1 national freestyle tournament. Each state takes their top wrestlers from each weight class, so the best guys were there."
Yates' hard work paid off again the following year when he returned to Fargo. This time, Yates placed seventh nationally, earning him All-American status.
Yates won 98 straight high school matches during his junior and senior years at Salem, winning two state championships at 140 and 145 pounds. He also signed a wrestling scholarship with Virginia Tech and took first place at The Beast of the East Tournament in Delaware.
"The beginning of my senior year, I was looking at colleges and I signed with Virginia Tech right before The Beast of the East Tournament. I would say my biggest accomplishment of my career so far was winning The Beast of the East Tournament," he said. "It's the No. 1 national folkstyle wrestling tournament, which is what we wrestle in high school and college.
"I also wrestled the whole offseason with Team Georgia, and we go up to all the tough national tournaments. I wrestle with the best kids from Georgia. I also try to go up to a TWC (The Wrestling Center). Arturo Holmes runs the one in Smyrna and Joey Guiler runs one in Gwinnett. They've helped me out a lot."
Yates also gave credit to his wrestling partner at Salem, Sammy Ahonen, for helping him prepare for stronger opponents.
And although the next step for Yates is obviously wrestling at the collegiate level, Yates noted that his biggest dreams still lay ahead.
"I want to be an Olympic wrestler," he said. "Every since I've started wrestling, that's been one of my goals."
Salem coach Tim Owens is one who definitely believes Yates can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to.
"He's made my job real easy, and it makes me look like a genius," Owens said. "I always appreciate his hard work in practice and all the things that he does outside of the season to get himself ready. If everybody, or at least part of the people, would take that same attitude, we'd have a lot more people place high at state. He was always someone I could count on at practice and in matches to do the things he's supposed to do and have the mental mind-set to be successful."
But when all is said and done, where does Yates rate in the lineage of great Rockdale County wrestlers? Heritage's Jason Fox won 89 straight matches during the years of 1996 and 1997, winning two straight state titles. Rockdale's Al Crisco, who graduated in 1982, won two state titles and finished third at state another year.
But no one has been able to accomplish what Yates has done. Yates' accolades and accomplishments have truly made him "Peter the Great."
Brandon Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: The Yates file
Who: Peter Yates
· 163-1 career record
· Won 3 state championships
· Signed to wrestle with Virginia Tech