Prep Wrestling

Brother's Strength: Haley fueled by loss of sibling as he chases state title

Zach Haley poses for a photo in the Quincy Notre Dame wrestling room on Friday, Jan. 26. Haley hopes to win the 145-pound state title this year. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 29, 2018 10:25 am Updated: Jan. 29, 2018 10:42 am

QUINCY -- The anxiety built as Zach Haley sat with his family in the waiting room of the hospital.

Haley just watched his older brother, Jeffrey, suffer a gruesome freak injury to his left arm while wrestling for Williams Baptist College during the NAIA National Championships last March in Topeka, Kan.

Haley said the injury was so severe that it severed an artery. The initial trauma of watching his brother get hurt made Haley, who just finished his junior season for the Quincy Notre Dame wrestling team, consider not competing as a senior.

"I kept telling myself I don't want to wrestle anymore," he said. "I didn't want that to happen to me."

His other older brother, Timothy, made him rethink.

"He settled me down," Haley said. "He didn't say much, but he consoled me. He told me to keep wrestling."

Haley, now a senior for the Raiders, is trying to get back to the Class 1A state title match. He fell short in last year's 138-pound championship with a 4-2 loss to Morrison's Joe Eads at the State Farm Center in Champaign. He would become the second wrestler in QND history to win a state championship if he accomplishes that.

A year later, Haley is dedicating his senior season to his brother who convinced him to continue wrestling.

Family tragedy

Haley saw Timothy for the last time at the wrestling championships. On April 13, Timothy died unexpectedly in DuQuoin. He was 26.

Haley played in a doubleheader less than 48 hours later with the QND baseball team against St. Joseph-Ogden in Springfield and hit a grand slam in the fourth inning of the second game. It was his first homer ever.

Haley firmly believed Timothy was the reason he hit the grand slam.

The pain of losing his brother, however, persisted. Haley relied on older brothers Jeffrey and Anthony for support. The QND community made sure it was there for him, too. Haley said his friends, teammates and coaches at QND showed him that support.

"Anytime you lose a loved one, it's going to be tough," QND wrestling coach Adam Steinkamp said. "It helped he had the support of the community. A lot of people came out to support the family, but it's still going to take time to heal because Tim should still be here with us."

About a month ago, Haley showed up at school one morning to find pictures of Timothy in his locker. Along with the photos was a note with the words "One Reason," "One Goal" and "State Title" on it.

"I saw it and teared up a little bit," Haley said. "I thought it was really cool."

Haley has dealt with adversity throughout his career at QND.

His early years with the Raiders consisted of coming back from a knee injury and a shoulder injury, with the latter making him decide to not go out for football as a junior and take up cross country. Haley returned to the gridiron this past fall but broke two bones in his hand in his first game back.

None of that adversity compared to the grieving of losing his brother.

Timothy's death, however, brought the Haley family closer.

"I don't know how it could manage to get even closer than what we were," said Haley's mother, Dorothy. "They're there for us, and we're always there for them."

The long road

A photo of Haley and Timothy embracing after last year's championship match sits on the dresser in Haley's bedroom. It was framed along with other memorabilia from the state meet after Timothy's death.

It serves as motivation every time he sees it.

Haley is ranked second in Class 1A at 145 pounds, according to IllinoisMatmen.com. He's captured tournament titles at the Quincy Invitational and in the Quincy Notre Dame Tournament, and he's 33-0 heading into this weekend's regional. Haley is considered a favorite to capture a state championship.

"Everyone's 0-0 going into postseason," he said. "Even though I've got the undefeated record, if I lose, that's fine. But I'm really going for the state finals."

Steinkamp said he's watched Haley work harder than ever this year.

"The realization has set in that, ‘I'm a senior, and this is it,'" Steinkamp said. "There's no room for error for him this year."

That's changed his demeanor on the mat.

"I'm going to wrestle my match out there," Haley said. "I don't want anyone to decide how I'm going to wrestle. I want to dominate out there."

He's also getting drive from his brothers. Anthony helps Haley at practice and is usually one of the coaches instructing Haley during matches.

Haley admits getting to this point was difficult, but he finds solace in knowing Timothy is still with him and believes he's watching him.

"Sometimes it's a struggle," Haley said. "He's going to be there with me at state. He's going to be there the rest of my life."

If Haley can win the first wrestling state title since Barry Moore in 1981, he'd savor the moment with his family. He knows Timothy will be watching, too.

"I'd be speechless after the match," Haley said. "I'd run to my brothers and hug them. I'd run to my family and hug them.

"I want that feeling."