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Local Column

Carifio: Still trying to come to terms with a stunning loss

Ezra Hill Jr.
Ezra Hill Jr.

We were heading to the parking lot, and although they were not throwing full fits, my two 7-year-olds were very upset.

They were upset about losing their matches at a tournament the DeKalb Wrestling Club holds at the end of its four-week clinic in October. It was the second time they had participated. As 6-year-olds, they had won a match, but this time around, they did not.

It was supposed to be fun, but they were upset more than you would expect – crying and the whole deal.

So finally, I'm desperate – I'm about to head back to work and don't want to leave my wife with a pair of screaming twin boys. I see this boy in the parking lot positively beaming, a smile on his face, walking with his family to a car near ours.

I call over to him as my boys have entered our car.

"Hey, you look like you had fun," I said to him. "Tell these guys how much fun wrestling is."

Well, the boy comes up to the window and immediately calms my sons.

"Don't worry," he said. "I used to lose, too. But it's so much fun."

The boys got the message, in part because they knew him – he's a fourth-grader at their school, and the boys are in second grade.

But it was more than that. The boy was affable. Happy. And it was demonstrably contagious. My boys stopped complaining.

My wife was so impressed that she dubbed the fourth-grader "Kid President," which put a big smile on his face. After we decided to enroll the boys in the wrestling club, she'd still call him that.

I was happy the boys had stopped tantruming, and I was glad my plan to call over a random kid worked.

If that child had been anyone other than Ezra Hill Jr., it may not have been as successful.

Ezra was shot March 23 while visiting his father in Harvey, and he died from his injuries March 25.

As has become obvious in the past week, lots of people who knew Ezra have a story like mine. He was upbeat, energetic and always smiling.

And sure, there are bigger points to be made here. But they've been made. This isn't about that.

This about that beaming little boy and a community coming to grips with the fact we won't see that smile ever again.

I really wish I'd had the chance to get to know Ezra better.

I'm sure his little pep talk helped the boys warm up to the idea of wrestling, as well as the basics of learning how to deal with a loss on the mat.

A few months later, at a tournament at Downers Grove South, Ezra was hanging out with the boys between matches. They were mostly goofing around, but I also heard Ezra talk wrestling with them.

My son Charlie picked up his first competitive win after that. I shared that memory with DWC coach Max Hiatt last week. He said it must have been Ezra's advice.

I thought he might have been kidding, but he probably wasn't.

On March 25, at a hotel in St. Louis on the second day of a four-day vacation, I had to break the news to the boys – as well my 11-year-old daughter, who knew Ezra well from school – that he had died.

Of course, children are resilient, and the boys still are kind of young to be grasping what really happened. Maybe on Monday, when they're back in school, it will be a different story.

But for the adults who knew him – even if it only was a couple of interactions – it's a hard loss to come to terms with.

Eddie Carifio is sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at ecarifio@shawmedia.com.

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