When Rex Savely was in the fifth grade, he told his dad he wanted to take up wrestling.
"I told him to come back when he was serious," his dad, Butch Savely, recalled.
But he was serious then, and he's serious now. Savely, a senior at Ninilchik High School, has remained devoted to his sport, and it's paid off. His strong work ethic, which his coaches praised at length, has taken him to great heights, and great places.
Savely is undefeated so far this year. He's ranked first in the state at the 119-pound weight class. He placed second in the small-schools state tournament last year, and qualified for competition at the state level when he was a sophomore.
And last summer, Savely traveled to Australia and wrestled at the distinguished Down Under tournament.
Savely moved to Alaska from California in 1995 with his parents, Butch and Susan, and his brothers, Jake and Mike. He was already active in wrestling, but he had a lot of work to do to get where he is today.
"He's not what most people would consider a great athlete," Savely's father said. "He just has a lot of heart."
"I had to overcome my lack of eye-hand coordination," Rex recalled. "I was pretty uncoordinated."
Ninilchik wrestling coach Ron Records, who has coached Savely throughout his Alaska wrestling career, said Savely still doesn't display the fluid motion that naturally coordinated wrestlers possess. Savely's strength, he said, is his knowledge.
"He has a unique style," Records said. "If you make a mistake, he's going to catch you. He's a knowledgeable wrestler."
Records also praised Savely's attitude.
"He's a good athlete with a good work ethic," he said.
Savely concurred with and praised his coaches, attributing his success as a wrestler to "being well-coached and (possessing) personal determination."
That determination hasn't won Savely praise in Ninilchik -- or Alaska -- alone.
Last summer Kotzebue wrestling coach Fred McKinney selected several outstanding Alaska wrestlers to participate in the Down Under tournament. Wrestlers from across the U.S. traveled to Australia for the competition. Between 200 and 300 athletes from around the world participated.
"Competition was really, really tough," McKinney said.
Savely placed fourth, and was "two, three points from taking a silver," according to McKinney.
"I felt I could have done better," the modest Savely said.
Savely said he enjoyed the trip.
"It was really nice to go to a different place," he said. "It was very nice to see the different cultures."
McKinney said he was very impressed with Savely as a wrestler and as a person.
"I would like to have him on my team any time, if I could find a way to steal him without his parents killing me," he said. "I just can't say enough about the kid."
Ninilchik principal and co-coach Mike Wetherbee said he has enjoyed working with Savely, both on the mat and outside of school.
"I've gone a lot of miles with that kid," he said. Wetherbee said Savely does well in all his classes.
"He's usually in the A and B range" in his courses, he said. He noted that Savely especially enjoys shop classes and is adept at applying what he learns.
"He's pretty sharp in the shop," Wetherbee said. "He likes the mechanical end of things.
"He's a good student and a good kid."
In Alaska, Savely said he enjoys hunting, fishing and racing stock cars at the Twin City Raceway.
His mother said he has skillfully pursued what Alaska has to offer, noting that three hours after moose season began he had already shot and killed a moose.
"The boys have done great up here," she said. "They've grown and prospered, and so have we."
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