Stonewall’s Garcia finds a home on the wrestling mat

Stonewall Jackson's Brandon Garcia, a midseasozn transfer from Turner Ashby High School, will compete in the Group 1A state wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday at Salem Civic Center. Rich Cooley/Daily

QUICKSBURG – Brandon Garcia hasn’t had much consistency in his life.

Born in Ohio, the 17-year-old Garcia says he never lived with his parents. Instead, he and his younger brother grew up under the guardianship of their grandparents, during which time they moved from Ohio to North Carolina to Virginia, eventually settling in an area just west of Harrisonburg.

Due to what Garcia calls internal “tension” among members of his family, he and his brother ended up in foster care about two years ago and began living in separate homes. Garcia, a high school senior, estimates that in that time period, during which he attended Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, he resided in 12 or 13 foster homes. Sometimes those homes were temporary respites, Garcia said, sometimes there were “problems,” and other times he simply exercised his option to move on to a different foster home.

Most recently, a short-lived return to his grandfather’s home resulted in Garcia’s move into yet another foster home, this one at the Mount Jackson residence of Mike and Lisa Lonas, a transition that led to Garcia’s transfer to Stonewall Jackson High School on Jan. 1.

Through all of the inconsistencies, however, there has been one constant for Garcia – wrestling.

“Wrestling’s always just been that thing I could be good at,” Garcia said Wednesday. “I’m not very good at a lot of things and wrestling just kind of clicked. And I’ve been doing it since kindergarten, first grade, right in that area. It’s always been that thing where if my parents were arguing I could just go back in my bedroom and just drill moves. As I started growing up it was more of a symbol of everything because I got my friends into it and now they’re successful.”

A fan of contact sports since he was young, Garcia’s introduction to wrestling actually came from watching World Wrestling Entertainment matches on television. Garcia said his grandfather even tricked him into thinking professional wrestling and scholastic wrestling were the same thing and prevented the young Garcia from giving up the sport in elementary school.

“Yeah it was a rude awakening, but when you’re little and just being able to throw people around it’s fun,” Garcia said. “Honestly I’m a big fan of the mental grind because it’s just as much technical as it is strength or anything. I like that part. I just like everything about the sport, what it gives back to you.”

Given his grandfather’s permission to quit wrestling once he started attending Wilbur S. Pence Middle School in Dayton, Garcia opted to stick with it. Garcia eventually ended up winning a middle school state championship, he said.

In high school, Garcia was a Conference 29 champion with Turner Ashby last season and made three VHSL Group 3A state tournament appearances with the Knights. He’s set to make his fourth state tournament appearance – this time at the Group 1A level – with Stonewall teammate Dakota Bush this weekend after finishing as the 132-pound runner-up at the Region 1A East tournament at Northampton last Saturday.

In Garcia’s brief time with Stonewall, he’s developed a fan base. During the Shenandoah County wrestling tournament on Feb. 4 – at which Garcia picked up his 100th career victory – he was celebrated on the Generals’ senior night, and the Lonases were out in full force to support their foster child.

“It’s weird because usually a foster home it’s obvious you’re only there because you have to be, and here feels like I’m welcome. The whole family treats me as their own and they said I could even stay after I’m out of foster care and still come around,” said Garcia, who will celebrate his 18th birthday in two weeks.

Garcia added that he’s seen that kind of support throughout the Stonewall Jackson student body.

“Everyone really welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “That was nice. They just treat me with respect. They’re all encouraging me to win states and some of the people from the school are coming to watch me at states. That’s something I wasn’t used to at TA.”

Garcia, who takes pride in teaching wrestling technique to others, has been giving back to his new teammates, as well. There arguably wasn’t a bigger Generals fan at the county tournament than Garcia, who eagerly paced around the mat while urging on whichever teammate happened to be grappling with a Central or Strasburg opponent in the circle.

Stonewall wrestling coach Jerry Franklin said Garcia’s energy and leadership was an immediate boost to a young Generals squad that lacked a true leader for most of the season.

“He’s somebody that this team can look up to,” Franklin said.

Garcia has made such a positive impact in his short time at the school that Franklin said he’s extended an offer to Garcia to return to help coach the Generals next winter.

“He does very well in the room with the kids and he’s actually helping them,” Franklin said. “… If another kid came in here just to show them how to do something they pay attention more with that than they actually do to a coach sometimes. He was actually helping teach some of the kids for the couple weeks or the month that he’s been here.”

Garcia has one more shot to make a lasting impression on Stonewall Jackson’s wrestling program, as he will attempt to become just the third wrestler in school history to win a state championship at the Group 1A tournament at Salem Civic Center on Friday and Saturday.

“I think it’s well deserved and it’s time for it to happen,” said Garcia, who has never won a high school state championship. “I’ve been waiting too long, practicing too much to let it go.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com