SHERIDAN — To the untrained eye, Hayden Hastings had it all. From the moment he stepped on the mat as a gritty 126-pound freshman, Hastings stood out as one of the state’s best wrestlers.
He stood out to his opponents, too, grappling his way to a state title in his first high school season.
Now, four years later, the resume boasts even more impressive statistics: two more state titles, four Ron Thon Memorial Tournament belts, back-to-back undefeated seasons.
Simply put, Hastings was dominant. So much, in fact, that Sheridan head coach Tyson Shatto proclaimed Hastings the greatest to ever don a Sheridan Broncs singlet.
All that stuff looks great on a resume. But again, most of the eyes glancing at the record books are untrained. Rewinding back to the freshman season and diving deep into the second-floor wrestling room at Sheridan High School reveals so much more than wins and losses.
“They get to see a focal point, the match,” Shatto said of the community’s view on Hastings’ dominance. “I get to see everything else. Even in a win, a good win, Hayden started developing a mentality where, it wasn’t perfect. We made mistakes, and it wasn’t an overall satisfaction of just, ‘We won the match.’”
The journey to dominance began with a trip to watch some matches around Hardin, Montana, with his dad when he was around 5 or 6 years old.
Then came Hastings’ turn to hit the mats, and he was hooked. He was hooked on the individuality of it, but, more importantly, he was hooked on winning.
“I hated losing,” Hastings said. “That kind of drove me, because I did not like losing at all.”
When Shatto and Hastings recap the young wrestler’s career at SHS, it’s no surprise, then, hidden within all those accolades and accomplishments, that a loss stands out as the most critical moment during that four-year stretch.
Hastings had dreams of becoming a four-time state champion, and after taking the title as a freshman, he had no reason to believe those dreams would fall short. A year later, the then-sophomore was distraught on the locker-room floor at the Casper Events Center minutes after being pinned by Gillette’s Logan Wagoner in the 152-pound state championship.
From there, it was time for Hastings and his coaches to re-evaluate Hastings’ goals. Ironically, as the group sat just feet away from where Hastings lost a state championship, Shatto wondered if it really mattered.
“Maybe you have to have a higher goal,” Shatto told Hastings in that locker room in March of 2015. “Maybe it’s not enough.
“I remember the devastation on his face, and I remember his demeanor coming back,” Shatto added. “At that point, I knew that there was a moment that things were going to be different.”
Shatto looked to Hastings’ heroes as inspiration. These were heroes that dominated on the mat and forced themselves to place goals so far out of reach that it took everything they had to achieve them — guys like David Taylor.
Taylor won four Ohio state championships, was twice a high school All-American and finished his high school career with a 180-2 record. He went on to become a two-time national champion and four-time All-American at Penn State University.
That’s what Hastings wanted — more than state titles.
Hastings set up camp in the wrestling room. Before school, after school. Even during football season, Hastings would hit the mats bright and early to be sure he got his workout in each day. His goals weren’t going to come easy.
“Going into that junior and senior year, knowing that you’re going to a Division I college, kids a lot of times get complacent,” SHS assistant coach and former four-time Wyoming state champion Kasey Garnhart said. “You’re just ready to be done and get to the next level. But (Hastings) stayed hungry the whole time.”
Consequentially, the state titles came. So did everything else. Hastings became the first four-time Ron Thon champion in Wyoming history; he earned the status of All-American; he secured a scholarship to wrestle at the University of Wyoming, where he’ll set the goals even further out of reach.
He trained all those eyes that peered aimlessly onto the mats from the grandstands. Hastings became a hero in his own right, his greatest accomplishment in a Sheridan singlet.
“Where Hayden saw David Taylor and said, ‘Hey, I want to aspire to that,’ now you’ve got local kids that can say, ‘This Sheridan kid did this. I want to follow that same path,’” Shatto said. “It’s not such a long visual thing now. It’s right in front of them.”
Maybe that’s not what Hastings had on his list of goals four long years ago, but his coach convinced him to reach higher. Now, he’s stamped a signature into more than the record books in Sheridan.
“I want to be just as good as him,” eighth-grade wrestler Reese Osborne said of Hastings. “I challenge myself to do everything better than him.
“He’s found a way to make the sport fun through hard work. That’s one of his best features on the wrestling mat.”
For Hastings, his four years at Sheridan High School became a balancing act between loving the sport and never being satisfied. He mastered that mentality and shared it with young Sheridan wrestlers like Osborne. Winning was fun, but it took a shift in mindset to make it so.
“It just takes mental preparation and mental toughness,” Hastings said. “Just sacrifices you have to make to accomplish your goals.”
Hastings finished his senior season with 36 wins and zero losses. He won’t step onto the mat for the Sheridan Broncs ever again, but he’ll forever be a Sheridan Bronc.
The Sheridan High School wrestling program has changed. Hastings is now engrained in its DNA.
No cape, no mask. Just a few lofty goals and a desire to do whatever it took to reach them. And he did.
Like his heroes.
Photo: Justin Sheely | The Sheridan Press