MINNEOTA - It was showtime.
Ross Abraham, 14, made his way down the wooden steps of the bleachers. As he got closer to the mat, he could feel the decibel level rise, heightening his excitement and enthusiasm even more.
Before long, 18-year old Grant Abraham can hear his brother's resounding encouragement, from the side of the mat, calling out point totals for every move Grant makes in his favor.
Photo by David Merrill
Minneota/Lincoln HI wrestler Grant Abraham holds his brother, Ross, who is the Vikings’ No. 1 fan.
Photo by David Merrill
Minneota/Lincoln HI wrestler Grant Abraham puts his brother, Ross, in a playful headlock at Minneota High School.
Both of them feel right at home.
Grant, a senior wrestler for the Minneota/Lincoln HI Vikings, one of the top programs in the area, and his brother Ross have always been linked by sports. It has created a bond that both of then will hang onto after Grant is done wrestling this year.
"It's awesome," Grant said. "He gets pretty excited about stuff, so it really cool to see. It's really cool to watch him cheer. Even for my teammates he gets pretty excited about it."
Ross, who was born with down syndrome, has made it a point to be mat side whenever Grant is getting ready to do battle. Ross has all the wrestling point values down. He has watched his brother so much over the years that he can identify a takedown and an escape as well as other more complicated moves as their point values.
Rod Abraham, their father, has seen Ross even have a sixth sense as to when his brother is getting ready to wrestle.
"A lot of times he's running around the school, but when Grant wrestles, he's there watching him all the time," Rod said.
Ross, however, doesn't keep it to just cheering on Minneota/lincoln hi wrestlers. Ross' love for sports drove him into the Special Olympics. He competes in swimming, football, basketball, bocce ball and track. His favorites are basketball and football.
Grant Abraham gets in on the act with supporting Ross in his athletic accomplishments. Grant serves as a unified partner with Special Olympics and is one of Ross' teammates on the football field.
Their team even won the state competition this past season.
"It's two unified partners out on the football field and three athletes," Grant said. "It's a lot of fun."
Even when one or both of them isn't competing in sports, they spend lots of time together at home with video game controllers in their hands and doing other activities.
"I like playing Call of Duty," Ross said. "We also eat junk food and play boardgames."
Grant, who ways 155 pounds and often wrestles at 160 or 170, has a luxury that most wrestlers don't have of not having to worry as much about what he is going to eat.
Rod has been impressed with the way the school and the community has taken a liking to Ross and treat him like one of their own.
"It's been a lot of fun," Rod said. "Ross always wants to do all these activities and sports, but he obviously has limitations. So, he can't. Special Olympics is his thing. Everyone has been really open and treat him really well. It has been humbling and a great experience for both sides."
The Abraham's have grown up with Minneota wrestling and has been a big part of their family. The family's oldest son, Blake, now attending North Dakota State University, was a wrestler in Minneota's program and Grant is a senior this year.
Like his two brothers, Ross has deep roots within the Minneota/lincoln HI wrestling team. Head coach Joel Skillings is one of the many who have watched Ross grow up before their eyes.
"When he was really little, he would come down and he would sit on my lap and we took him in and said that's fine," Skillings said. "His parents were a little concerned about that being ok. The way I look at it, we have a nice family thing going on here. He's part of what were doing here."
While Ross may get extra excited when Grant is wrestling, he shows great enthusiasm and support for all the kids on the wrestling team. He supports them just like he supports people in his own family. To him, in a way they are his family - one that has included him as one of their own since Day 1.
Skillings can't recall a negative word coming out of Ross's mouth, especially when it came to wrestling matches.
"His enthusiasm is contagious," Skillings said. "He knows all the guys because he grew up with them. There was never any negative thoughts. He is enamored with the crew whether they win or lose. If they win he's got his fistbump going and if they lose, he pats them on the back and tells them better luck next time."
Having a superfan like Ross with a disability can come with its own set of challenges that members of the team and his family have had to adjust to.
Skillings recalls a time recently when the team had to have its official team picture taken. Ross, although very much a part of the team, is not on the official team roster and therefore couldn't be included in the picture. Despite his valiant efforts of 'come on Skillings' with a slight grin on his face, Skillings had to do deliver the heartbreaking news that he couldn't be pictured with the rest of the team.
Setting boundaries has been very important step in the relationship between Ross and the members of the team and coaching staff.
"We've treated him like any other member of the team," Skillings said. "When he does things great, we praise him and when he does things that aren't so great, we let him know that that's enough. He gets a lot of the fair and equal treatment that every kid on the team gets."
His demeanor has often times also carried over to the wrestling mat.
When he was younger, the team had to keep a closer eye on him during matches because officials were worried about him getting too close and injuring himself. As he got older and Ross learned more about the sport, he would let his opinion be known if he didn't like the way a call or non-call took place on the mat, and while the team has done their best to keep him from getting too worked up, the officials don't seem to mind.
"The officials now tend to look over and smile a little bit," Skillings said. "They definitely take notes about how enthusiastic he is and what he brings."
Brightening people's day is something that Ross has made a regular habit of and it's definitely something the other wrestlers on the team have taken note of.
One such wrestler is Nathan Bueltel, who wrestles at 182 pounds. Bueltel has a member of his family that also suffers from down syndrome, so he can relate to what Ross is experiencing.
"I smile every time I see that kid," Bueltel said. "People with conditions like the one he has inspire me because heret hey are with this condition that is a struggle and Ross has always kept a positive attitude and always makes everyone's days better. It's really a fun and cool thing to see."
EDITOR'S NOTE:?Independent sports reporter Lauren Beukelman contributed to this story.